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BY LEON H. VINCENT 



THE BIBLIOTAPH AND OTHER 
PEOPLE i2mo, $1.50 

BRIEF STUDIES IN FRENCH SOCI- 
ETY AND LETTERS IN THE XVII. 
CENTURY 

HOTEL DE RAMBOUILLET AND THE 

PRECIEUSES 

THE FRENCH ACADEMY 

CORNEILLE 

Each, i6mo, $1.00. 
MOLIERE. In preparation. 



HOUGHTON, MIFFLIN & COMPANY 
BOSTON AND NEW YORK 



Copyrighty igoi, by Leon H, Vincent 
All rights reserved 



To 
DEWITT MILLER 

A modern Bo ok- Hunter of the Old School 



CONTENTS 

Introduction I 

"*•!-»- 
Touth and Dramatic Beginnings . . 1 1 

-^ II -^ 
The Five Authors 33 

-^ III-*- 
The parrel of the C\A 63 

-»• IVh- 
Horace, Cinna, and Polyeucte . .101 

-H V ■*- 

Later Works 13 1 

-4- VI H- 

Corneille the Man 151 

-^- VII +- 
Services to Literature — Conclusion . • ^75 

Bibliographical Note 193 



CORNEILLE 



T 

JLHERE is a well-known print 
showing the salle du theatre of the 
Palais Cardinal, Richelieu's magnifi- 
cent abode, during the performance of 
a play. The two galleries are filled 
with sumptuously arrayed and deco- 
rously mannered ladies and gentlemen. 
The royal party occupy armchairs on 
the main floor commanding an unob- 
structed view of the stage, a luxury, 



CORNEILLE 

by the way, which few besides royalty 
are privileged to enjoy. This distin- 
guished group consists of Louis XIII, 
Anne of Austria, the Dauphin, and 
Gaston D'Orleans. Louis and his 
brother, oblivious for the moment of 
the spectacle, are holding an animated 
conversation; though it may be that 
this is only a device of the artist to 
enable him to show the faces of the 
eminent guests, since the picture is 
sketched from a point of view directly 
back of the royal party. Richelieu is 
nowhere visible. It is safe, however, 
to count upon his presence. One may 
believe that from some advantageous 
post the Cardinal's gaze is occasionally 
bent upon Gaston with a look in which 
are blended suspicion and amused 
contempt. 



4 ^ /g ^ tggV ^ i. 

CORNEILLE 

This picture illustrates among other 
things how fashionable the drama had 
become. We are in the centre of the 
great social world, and that world is 
absorbed in the stage. Whatever the 
play may be, one thing is certain, it 
is the work of some poet approved of 
society. This theatre of the Palais 
Cardinal, with its pomp and magnifi- 
cence, offers a striking contrast to the 
theatre of Hotel de Bourgogne as the 
historians describe it. 

A great barren hall floored with 
stone. A stage ill equipped and dimly 
lighted with candles. There are at- 
tendants whose business it is to keep 
the candles snuffed, and who do their 
work with little regard for what is tak- 
ing place on the boards. That part 
of the audience which crowds the 



CORNEILLE 

parterre does not even enjoy the hum- 
ble luxury of seats, but must stand up 
during the entire performance. It is 
a motley crowd, ' merchants, artisans, 
scriveners, clerks, students, lackeys, 
bullies, and pickpockets/ They are 
brutal and noisy. Conspicuous among 
them are the king's mousquetaires, who 
exact the privilege of entering free, 
and who make 'un bruit d'enfer' in 
their pleasure or disappointment. 

The performance begins with a pro- 
logue, always gross and often obscene. 
Then follows the tragedy or tragi- 
comedy. A farce is given at the close 
to relieve the strain, or perhaps there 
is a song less witty than suggestive. 
The entertainment was not one at 
which women could be present and at 
the same time maintain their self-re- 



CORNEILLE 

spect. Nevertheless, polished society, 
which had so great an influence upon 
manners and conversation in the early 
Seventeenth Century, extended its 
humanizing virtues to this brutal the- 
atre. If this influence is not at first 
easily perceived or always clearly to 
be traced, the fact must be attributed 
to that independence of temper which 
is a marked characteristic of the thea- 
tre and of theatrical life. The stage 
is a world to itself, and a world alto- 
gether impatient of extemal control. 

We have seen how the Marquise 
de Rambouillet placed men of letters 
on a footing of social equality with 
the aristocratic world. Several years 
elapsed, however, before the poets of 
polite society were attracted to the 
stage as a field for the exercise of their 



CORNEILLE 

powers. The theatre, with much that 
appertained thereto, was held in con- 
tempt until the time of Alexandre 
Hardy. This fecund playwright has 
been described as ' a Shakespeare with- 
out the genius.' Lanson calls him a 
carpenter rather than a writer of plays. 
His sense of literature was small, but 
he understood perfectly the art of dra- 
matic construction. He wrote several 
hundred plays, faulty as literature, but 
admirable as stage pieces. His skill 
in the constructive part of his art 
attracted the attention and compelled 
the admiration of the poets of polished 
society. Racan, a pupil of Malherbe, 
a frequenter of the ' blue room,' used 
to see Hardy's plays at Hotel de Bour- 
gogne and ask himself whether these 
pieces which had so much dramatic 



CORNEILLE 

virtue could not have a little more and 
become literature also. With this 
thought dominant in his mind he 
wrote the Bergeries. ' Society ' was 
fully represented when the piece was 
given at Hotel de Bourgogne. 

Other poets followed Racan's ex- 
ample, and the social world was loyal 
to its poets. The polish, the elegance, 
the agreeable sophistication of the life 
of the salon, effected a complete trans- 
formation in the theatre, and the influ- 
ence of a powerful minister completed 
the work in so far as it could be done 
without the help of a dramatic poet of 
transcendent genius. 

The precieux poets and dramatists 
were able to give little to the national 
stage besides refinement and polish. 
Hardy is still regarded as the true 



CORNEILLE 

precursor of Corneille. But the dis- 
tance between Hardy and Corneille 
seems even greater than the distance 
between the predecessors of Shake- 
speare and Shakespeare. Corneille 
came with a genius of imperious self- 
assertive quality. It was a genius of 
that sort which makes bitter enemies, 
but which also wins enough applause 
to drown the hisses. Corneille created 
the French tragedy. His success was 
so overwhelming that he carried all 
before him. He was victor in spite 
of the Academy with its Sentiments^ in 
spite of the Cardinal himself The 
achievement was extraordinary. ' The 
man who derived in no sense from his 
predecessors, who learned nothing from 
Jodelle, nothing from Gamier, and 
very little from Hardy, was able to 



CORNEILLE 

teach all who came after him/ He 
inspired Racine, he inspired Moliere. 
All French dramatic history centres in 
Pierre Corneille. * There is no greater 
name in the history of our literature.' 



J ^K {^ 



c 

^w/ORNEILLE was born in 
Rouen, in 1606. The critics admit 
that if one could not be born in Paris, 
or, what amounts to the same thing, 
come to Paris as soon as possible after 
being bom, then Rouen was a very- 
good starting-point for a poet. It was 
a publishing centre. It had literary 
and dramatic interests which were 
quite its own, and in no sense a pale 
reflection of what was done in the 
metropolis. 'After Paris it was the 



CORNEILLE 

city where the theatre most flourished.' 
The famous Montchrestien, 'whose 
life and death were more tragic than his 
tragedies,' was a Norman, though not 
of Rouen. A society of comedians 
similar to the 'Enfants Sans-souci' 
of Paris had flourished there in the 
Sixteenth Century ; they called them- 
selves the ' Connards.' Their memory 
was green in Corneille's time. These 
traditions and associations had their 
effect upon the young poet. Rouen 
had also its Academy, the ' Puy des 
Palinods,' which encouraged poets and 
awarded prizes to successful practi- 
tioners in the art. 

The Corneilles were a family of the 
' robe.' The poet's grandfather, Pierre 
Corneille, was at first 'commis au 
greffe' of the Parliament of Rouen 



CORNEILLE 

and then ' conseiller referendaire ' in 
the ' chancellerie ' of the same Parlia- 
ment. The poet's father, also a Pierre 
Corneille, was 'maitre particulier ' of 
waters and forests in the vicomte of 
Rouen. He was noted for his physi- 
cal courage, and for the resolution and 
energy with which he suppressed the 
bands of marauders that pillaged the 
woods of the State. 

Young Pierre studied at the College 
of the Jesuits in Rouen. He was 
solidly grounded in Latin, and received 
at least two prizes for skill in verse 
composition. The prizes were books : 
Herodian's Histories^ awarded in 1618, 
and Panciroli's Notitia Dignitatum, 
awarded in 1620. These interesting 
relics of a great poet's school-days are 
still in existence, and may be profitably 



CORNEILLE 

examined by such as maintain that the 
men who take prizes in college never 
take them elsewhere. 

At eighteen Corneille was, as we 
would say, admitted to the bar. He 
purchased two offices, one on the 
bench of waters and forests and the 
other in the administration of marine. 
For twenty years this was his work ; 
and he devoted himself thereto with 
scrupulous exactitude. He was 
studying dramatic composition in his 
leisure moments, to be sure, but he 
was first of all a man of affairs. This 
is a noteworthy characteristic of the 
great poets. With few exceptions 
they have been able and willing to do 
their share in bearing the homely and 
practical responsibilities of life. They 
have not sought immunity because 
-*-i4 -I- 



CORNEILLE 

they were gifted. As a rule, only the 
small poets plead poetry as an excuse 
for not working. This principle or 
rule does not suffer in the least because 
we know that Corneille was not happy 
in the conduct of practical affairs. 
Fontenelle says that Corneille had no 
taste for the law, and that he was not 
successful in it. All the more credit- 
able to him are those twenty years of 
uncongenial legal work. In later years 
the poet's aversion to affairs increased ; 
the mere word business was sufficient, 
says Fontenelle, to bring terror to his 
soul. 

He made his dramatic beginning 
at the age of twenty-three, with a piece 
called Melitey ou les fausses lettresy a 
comedy in five acts and in verse. 
The distinguished actor Mondory 



CORNEILLE 

happened to be in Rouen. Mondory's 
experience was no doubt that of most 
influential actors and managers ; aspir- 
ing dramatic poets brought him their 
plays to read and to approve. His 
experience may have been like that 
of a modem actor of whom I have 
heard. ' These young men bring me 
plays/ he said, ' and if I refuse to see 
them they leave the manuscript on the 
doorstep.' 

Melite easily passed the ordeal of 
a reading. It was produced at the 
Theatre de Marais in Paris in 1633, 
and enjoyed a marked success. ' This 
piece was my beginning,' said Cor- 
neille in after years, ' and it was not 
according to the rules, because I did not 
then know that there were any. I had 
for guide only a little common-sense, 
-Hl6 ^- 



CORNEILLE 

together with the example of the late 
Hardy, whose vein was more copious 
than polished, and of some modems 
who had commenced to produce, and 
who were no more regular than he/ 
Much of the success of the play must 
be attributed to the youth of its author, 
and to the fact that he was blessedly 
ignorant of the arbitrary laws of the 
art. As yet the fear of the dramatic 
pedagogues was not before his eyes. 

Two or three remarkable facts about 
this play deserve comment. It was 
one of the first pieces to produce 
legitimately comic effects without the 
buffoonery of valets, servants, 'capi- 
tans,' and doctors. Corneille prided 
himself upon this. He was an inno- 
vator and took pleasure in the improve- 
ments which he had made. The idea 
^17^ 



CORNEILLE 



that Corneille was the Father of 
French Tragedy is so firmly rooted in 
our minds as to make us forgetful of 
his services to the other branches of 
dramatic art ; and it is with something 
of an effort that we comprehend the 
statement of the critic who speaks of 
Corneille as the forerunner of Moliere. 
' This work, Melite^ made a revolution 
in the drama for which Moliere has 
had the honor because his talent 
brought it out with great splendor.' 
Corneille may be said to have shown 
Moliere the path which true comedy 
must take. 

Another remarkable fact : the 
comedy of MHite is a document which 
must be studied if one would know 
how the great social world oi that day 
talked. Roederer calls Melite an 



CORNEILLE 

' authentic monument of the habitual 
language of the best society/ Where 
did Comeille so master the tongue as 
to be able to produce this piece at 
the age of twenty-three ? Brunetiere 
afRrms that Comeille wrote all his life 
with a view to being acceptable to the 
precieuses.^ The distinguished and 
learned critic does not mean that this 
was Comeille's sole object in dramatic 
composition, or even his chief object, 
but that it was an object. 

For a moment we have difficulty in 
readjusting our ideas to this new con- 
ception. We find ourselves entertain- 
ing a repugnance to the thought that 
the greater poetry can be the product 
of any inspiration short of the highest. 

* Bninetiere : Manuely p. 132. 



CORNEILLE 

If Brunetiere had asked us to believe 
that such plays as Melite^ la Galerie 
du Palais^ la Suivante^ and la Place 
Roy ale were written for the precieuses, 
and that the mighty tragedies were for 
an audience greater than could be 
brought together in any one city or 
in any one decade, we should be pre- 
pared to admit the justice of the re- 
mark. Our critic is thorough-going, 
however; he does not qualify. Cor- 
neille, with all his universality and 
depth, was at the same time local, and, 
if you will, fashionable. ' In Horace^ 
Cinna. and Rodogune, where he mingles 
politics and gallantry, you are not to 
imagine that he imitates Justin, Seneca, 
or Livy; the manners are those of his 
own time, and the characters are taken 
from models who have posed for him/ 



CORNEILLE 

We become reconciled to the 
thought after a Httle. It would be 
absurd to suppose that men who write 
for the stage do not always have the 
audience in mind. They who write 
without the constraint of an imaginary 
audience will produce plays which can 
be read and which cannot be heard. 
Why, then, should Corneille be ex- 
cepted, he who had so perfect a com- 
mand of the technique of the drama, 
and some of whose plays hold the 
stage to this day ? Brunetiere would 
have us believe that EmiUe in Cinna 
and Cleopatre in Rodogune are not 
cold studies from the antique, but a 
living and splendid reality, none other 
than the Duchesse de Chevreuse. We 
can the better understand the critic's 
position by keeping in mind that 

-+21 -I- 



CORNEILLE 

under the head of precieuses he in- 
cludes the most eminent and cultivated 
women of that time. 

Corneille would have been greatly 
and uncomfortably surprised could he 
have been told that modern criticism 
would come to this conclusion. Lan- 
son denies that the poet has succeeded 
in catching the spirit of antiquity in a 
marked degree. The characters in the 
plays are labelled as of this nationality 
or that, but it comes to the same thing 
in the end ; ' all are Frenchmen, con- 
temporaries of the poet, and good sub- 
jects of Louis XIII.' ^ Lanson adds 
that what the drama of Corneille 
thereby loses in historic color it gains 
in intense actuality. The poet gives 

^ Lanson: Corneille, p. i68. 



CORNEILLE 

us 'a faithful and striking picture of 
the France of Richelieu, of that aris- 
tocratic class which inaugurated the 
absolute monarchy and a social world/ 
According to this critic, the tragedies 
of Corneille are in large degree only 
the history of his own times. 

The poet himself was quite con- 
vinced that he made his Romans talk, 
think, and act like Romans, and not 
at all like Frenchmen of the Seven- 
teenth Century. Most dramatists have 
similar delusions about their work. 
No doubt one poet comes a little 
nearer to the classic ideal than another, 
but can any man feel certain that his 
stage Romans and stage Greeks bear 
more than a faint resemblance to the 
heroes of antiquity ? Must they not 
of necessity be of the poet's own time, 



CORNEILLE 

and own country? I am not sure 
that the absurdity of dressing the char- 
acters in costume contemporaneous 
with that of actors and spectators was 
not without its compensations. At all 
events, the mind of the spectator was 
not diverted from the play itself, and 
from the delivery of the lines, to the 
thought of how queer the antique cos- 
tume was, and how ineffably absurd 
the average actor appears in a short 
tunic and a makeshift toga and ' look- 
ing as if he had forgotten his collar.' 
What a triumph of acting must that 
have been when Mrs. Yates played 
Cleopatra in a hoopskirt. We should 
not wish to return to so strange a 
conception of how a part should be 
dressed. The public of to-day would 
not tolerate Cleopatra in a tailor-made 



CORNEILLE 

gown for the first act and an evening 
gown for the fifth act. Yet grotesque 
as the custom was, so long as it pre- 
vailed, and actors and actresses went 
on the stage in their every-day clothes, 
and no one thought it out of the way, 
it had its advantages. 

After all, these great poetic creations 
do not make their appeal to the heart 
ftom generation to generation by 
means of archaeology. If the play of 
Julius Casar depended for its vitality 
on the fact that Shakespeare had 
summed up the latest discoveries con- 
cerning Roman life and manners, that 
play would long since have gone the 
way of a hundred others and been for- 
gotten. Where the dramatic poets of 
the first rank show their power is in the 
creation of types which all men can 



CORNEILLE 

understand, types which are not of a 
single age or country, but universal. 
Shakespeare was characteristically 
English, but Shakespeare was none the 
less for all nations and for all time. 
Corneille may have written his trage- 
dies with Hotel de Rambouillet in 
mind, but above the local and the 
fashionable were the human and the 
universal elements. It is by virtue of 
these that he lives. 

The question is still unanswered, 
and I do not recall that any attempt has 
been made to answer it : Where did 
Corneille master the language of that 
charming and sophisticated Parisian 
society so as to be able to reproduce it 
in his play ? He had had no oppor- 
tunity of visiting the great houses 
of Paris ; and, if the boy was like the 



CORNEILLE 



man, he was awkward, brusque, and 
at times sullen. These are not quali- 
ties to help one on in society. Nev- 
ertheless, we are asked to believe that 
Melite represents the language and the 
fashions of polite society in 1630. 
Lemaitre is constrained to admit that 
if this be true, as is quite possible, the 
conversation of polite society must 
often have been ' bizarre.' 

Instead of following up the success 
of Melite with another piece in the 
same vein, Comeille produced in 1632 
a tragi-comedy entitled Clitandre^ on 
I 'innocence delivree. It was a roman- 
tic drama, stuffed with incidents and 
involved to the point of confusion. 
It failed, and Corneille retumed to his 
earlier manner and wrote la Veuve^ ou 
le traitre trahi^ la Galerie du Pa- 
^27^ 



CORNEILLE 

lais (1633), ^^ Suivante (1634), and 
la Place Roy ale (1635). 

The original edition of la Veuve 
contains a number of poetical tributes 
from various dramatic contemporaries. 
This was the custom, and it hardly 
needs the apology which Taschereau 
has seen fit to make for it in Comeille's 
behalf There are not less than twenty, 
six of these complimentary poems. 
The first is from Scudery, who bids the 
stars retire because the sun has risen, 
and who is florid in celebrating ' La 
beaute de la Veuve, et Pesprit de Cor- 
neille.' 

Another is from Mairet, who 
addresses Corneille as the first of the 
beaux esprits to revive in his writings 
the genius of Plautus and of Terence. 
This was a stock allusion. A success- 
^28 H- 



CORNEILLE 

fill comic writer was always compared 
with those ancient dramatists. 

There were tributes from Rotrou 
and Du Ryer. Also from Bois-Robert 
and Claveret. Bois-Robert is brief but 
most partial in his address to the ' Belle 
Veuve adoree.' Claveret writes both 
an epigram and a madrigal. These 
little verses may be read with profit 
when we come to study the attitude 
of Bois-Robert, Scudery, Mairet, and 
Claveret towards Corneille some three 
years later. With the exception of 
Rotrou, the five men here named 
as contributing to the poetic eulogy 
became the bitterest of Corneille's 
enemies. Claveret in particular was 
brutal in his personal attacks. 

In the Galerie du Palais Corneille 
for the first time dispensed with the 
-^ 29-*- 



CORNEILLE 

traditional nurse, a part that was inva- 
riably played by a man made up to 
represent a ridiculous old woman. He 
also put upon the stage a scene with 
which every spectator was perfectly 
familiar, namely, the gallery of the 
Palais, with the shops of a bookseller, 
a haberdasher, and a dealer in linens 
and silks. Marty-Laveaux comments 
on the attractiveness of the device for 
the average theatre-goer. It is no less 
potent to-day, and is undoubtedly a 
legitimate effect. But it was the fore- 
runner of a type of realism truly bar- 
barous. We have seen the idea 
pushed to the last degree of absurdity 
at the present time, and the public in 
spasms of delight over a stage sawmill 
or a real load of hay. The success of 
the Galerie du Palais was not due to 



CORNEILLE 

the inoffensive realism of the stage set- 
ting, but to the sparkling dialogue and 
the interesting situations. The play 
had a more favorable reception than 
anything else Corneille wrote up to 
the time of the Cid. 

The young poet was now suffi- 
ciently celebrated to attract the notice 
of Richelieu. He was presented to 
the Cardinal. A number of interesting 
events followed upon this introduction. 
They can be the better understood if 
we have clearly in mind Richelieu's 
attitude toward the theatre and his 
immense influence as a patron of dra- 
matic art. 



^31 



II 

T 

^HE Cardinal's interest in the 
theatre is well known. It was not 
alone his avocation, his hobby, but 
something more: it was his passion. 
Every moment that could be spared 
from politics was given to the stage. 
A taste for dramatic entertainment 
was generally diflfused at this time. 
The public was unconsciously get- 
ting ready for Corneille, Moliere, and 
Racine, and the Cardinal was as 
unconsciously helping the public in 



CORNEILLE 

the work of preparation. Love of the 
theatre ' tyrannized ' to such a degree 
that although there were two compa- 
nies of players in Paris, one at Hotel 
de Bourgogne and one at the Marais, 
Richelieu felt the need of yet a third, 
and created the troupe of the Palais- 
Cardinal. 

The Palais-Cardinal, that magnifi- 
cent residence which the great Minis- 
ter built for himself when he found 
the Petit-Luxembourg 'unworthy' of 
his expanding puissance, was begun 
in 1629 and finished in 1636. The 
salle de spectacle was at the right as 
one entered the court of the Palais. 
The ambition of the Cardinal and the 
skill of the architect Le Mercier had 
united to make this theatre the ' most 
admirable in Europe.' Sauval says 
-+34-'- 



CORNEILLE 

that unfortunately it was small, but its 
happy proportions, together with the 
skill of Jean le Maire, the decorator, 
produced the needed effect of ampli- 
tude. 

Plays and ballets were given here. 
For example, in January, 1636, Riche- 
lieu entertained the Queen, Gaston, 
due d'Orleans, Mademoiselle, the 
Prince and Princesse de Conde, the 
Comtesse de Soissons, the Duchesse de 
Lorraine, and the entire court, with a 
representation of la Cleoriste by Baro. 
After the play there was a ballet with 
an unusual novelty introduced : the 
dancers served a collation to the 
guests. 

When the Due de Parme was in 
Paris, during February of that same 
year, Richelieu received him at his 
-+35-*- 



CORNEILLE 

palace and had played for his benefit 
the Aspasie by Desmarests de Saint- 
Sorlin. Music was rendered between 
the acts; the play was followed by 
a ballet, and the ballet by a supper. 
The entertainment lasted three hours. 
Pleasures such as these required 
more than ordinary taste and skill. 
The audience was critical, and the 
host even more so. Richelieu was 
not a poet or even a good prose 
writer, though he is credited with what 
few people possessed in those days, 
a sense of orthography. But it was a 
time when all men wrote, and all wo- 
men read, poetry. The poetry may 
not have been always of a high or- 
der, but technically it was admirable. 
There were more people who under- 
stood the theory and practice of the 



CORNEILLE 

art than could be got together any- 
where at the present day. And the 
Cardinal must be supposed to have 
had a measure of taste in that about 
which all cultivated people knew 
something. He was not too busy to 
write an occasional stanza or scene, 
and never too busy to dispute with 
his poets as to the way in which their 
verses ought to be written. 

In 1641 Mir ante was presented in 
the large theatre of the Palais-Cardi- 
nal. Mirame was Richelieu's favorite 
work. He lavished money upon the 
production. Mechanical effects of a 
sort to which the public was little 
used were attempted; the sun and 
the moon were shown in the act of 
rising, and ships passed to and fro 
on the distant sea. The Abbe de 



CORNEILLE 

Marolles, who was present, did not 
find these novelties particularly enter- 
taining. He held to the doctrine, as 
sound as it is old-fashioned, that the 
success of a play depends upon the 
recitation of the parts by good actors, 
the inventive ability of the poet, and 
beautiful verses. ' All else is but use- 
less embarrassment.' 

No one was deceived as to the Car- 
dinal's relation to Mirame. The re- 
puted author was Desmarests, but that 
display of intense solicitude on the 
Cardinal's part was unquestionably 
paternal. He showed the liveliest 
satisfaction when certain passages 
were delivered. At times he was 
seen quieting the spectators immedi- 
ately about him, lest they should fail 
to comprehend the beauty of the 



CORNEILLE 

lines. When the applause was to his 
mind, he showed himself in the front 
of his box, smiling and evidently flat- 
tered. These are the airs of a dramatic 
author responding to the demands of 
an audience eager for a glimpse of 
him to whom they owe so much plea- 
sure. A poet by profession, by gift, 
who finds himself writing plays with 
such a collaborator, is not in an alto- 
gether enviable position. 

When Corneille was presented to 
the Cardinal, it was not that he might 
receive the congratulations and the 
' God-speed ' of the minister, but for 
a purpose which looked rather more 
to the glory of the statesman than to 
the glory of the poet. Richelieu in- 
vited Corneille to become one of a sort 
of dramatic commission or bureau. 



CORNEILLE 

The function of this bureau was to 
write plays under the Cardinal's su- 
pervision. There were already four 
members, — Colletet, Bois - Robert, 
I'Estoile, and Rotrou ; Corneille made 
the fifth. It is beheved that the 
Cardinal furnished the plan; the poets 
did the actual work. They are 
known in literary history as the 'Five 
Authors.' The bureau was also a 
time-saving device. Each of the 
poets was assigned an act in the play, 
and given a month in which to com- 
plete it. Thus the entire play was 
composed in thirty days. One mar- 
vels that unity of effect and style 
could be expected of work done in 
this extraordinary fashion. Collabo- 
ration is always a mystery, but we 
have grown accustomed to the idea 



CORNEILLE 

of two persons working together on a 
novel or a play; it requires an effort 
of mind to conceive how so intricate 
a literary form as a five-act drama, a 
form which requires the nicest possi- 
ble relation between the parts, could 
have been wrought with such speed, 
and by so many persons each of 
marked individuality. 

In 1634 the five authors composed 
the piece entitled the Comedie des 
Tuileries. Comeille was assigned the 
third act, so ofi:en the important and 
critical act of a drama. He saw in it 
possibilities which had escaped the 
Cardinal's eye. This is not surpris- 
ing ; for while Corneille was not as 
yet the ' grand ' Comeille, he was a 
dramatic author by instinct as well as 
by considerable practice. His natu- 

-».4i H- 



i4 ^ ^ ^t< ^ J^ 

CORNEILLE 

ral medium of expression was the 
dramatic. He ventured to change 
the Cardinal's plan as he believed for 
the better, and received that famous 
reproof: ' II faut avoir de V esprit de 
suite' The Cardinal has been ridi- 
culed for this criticism, and unjustly. 
' When five poets undertake to sink 
their individualities to a given end, one 
of them must not step out of line.' 

From this incident may be dated 
the beginning of the Cardinal's antag- 
onism to Comeille. As yet it ex- 
pressed itself negatively, by allowing 
the poet to withdraw from the com- 
mission, and by stopping, as was just, 
the pension which was paid him for 
work done in collaboration with his 
Eminence. Taschereau, a historian 
but little given to eulogizing Riche- 



CORNEILLE 

lieu, quotes with approval Pellisson's 
remark that the Cardinal was 'very 
generous toward the five collabora- 
tors. In addition to the ordinary pen- 
sion which each received, he lavished 
favors upon those who succeeded ac- 
cording to his desire : ' as when he 
gave Colletet sixty pistoles for six 
verses describing the 'carre d'eau,' 
and told the poet that the king was 
not rich enough to pay for the rest. 
Colletet wrote some witty lines in re- 
sponse, expressing a readiness to sell 
all his literary work on the same 
terms : — 

^Armandy qui pour six vers rri* a donne six cents 

livres 
^e ne puis-je a ce pris te vendre tous mes 

livres ! ' 

Comeille was not of those who 
^43^ 



CORNEILLE 

obtained additional favors. He paid 
the penalty of not being docile under 
the strictures of the most influential 
dramatic critic of the Seventeenth 
Century. He went back to his home 
in Rouen, and wrote Medie and the 
Illusion comique. The former was not 
wholly a success, owing to the long 
declamations with which it was filled ; 
nevertheless, it marked a step in the 
right direction, and announced the 
Corneille of the Cid and of Polyeucte. 
The Illusion comique^ which its au- 
thor pronounced a ' strange monster,' 
delighted the public. It is a piece in 
the Spanish style, but has no proto- 
type so far as is known. It is come- 
die heroique, and may be accounted 
one of the best illustrations of Cor- 
neille's versatility. The character of 



CORNEILLE 

the Capitan Matamore was new to 
the public, or at least new in come- 
dies of this elevated type. The brag- 
gadocio had been hitherto confined to 
farces and low comedy. 

About this time Corneille's atten- 
tion was turned to the study of the 
great national hero of Spain, out of 
which study was fashioned the play 
that was to make him famous. 

There lived in Rouen an old gen- 
tleman who in earlier years had been 
secretary to Marie de Medicis. He 
was a Monsieur de Chalon. Cor- 
neille went to see him one day, and 
the old gentleman said : ' Monsieur, 
the type of drama which you have 
taken up will secure for you only a 
transient glory. But you will find 
subjects in the Spanish which, treated 



CORNEILLE 

according to our taste and by powers 
such as yours, will produce great ef- 
fects. Learn Spanish; it is easy. I 
will help you until you are in a posi- 
tion to read by yourself and to trans- 
late some passages from Guillen de 
Castro.' He placed the book in 
Corneille's hands, the story runs. 
* The world is much indebted to that 
Monsieur de Chalon,' says Jules Le- 
maitre. From his advice and the 
study and work consequent upon it, 
came that masterpiece of the classic 
French drama, the Cid. It was pro- 
duced at the Theatre de Marais to- 
wards the close of the year 1636. 
From this moment opened a new and 
brilliant chapter in the history of the 
stage, and Corneille, only thirty years 
of age, began to know as he had not 
-4-46 H- 



CORNEILLE 

known before, the glory and the un- 
happiness of success. 

The Cid was mounted with un- 
usual care. Mondory had realized 
its immense superiority to all other 
pieces, and had prepared himself for 
a triumph. The costumes, the stage- 
setting, all the equipments, were as 
perfect as they could be made. These 
things, which are now regarded as le- 
gitimate and even indispensable, were 
afterwards used to point arguments 
against Corneille. He was not only 
told that his play belonged in the cat- 
egory of poetical compositions ' which 
are more indebted to those who speak 
the lines than to the poets who have 
written them,' but he was also re- 
proached for the generous assistance 
rendered by the stage carpenter. 



CORNEILLE 

Only at long intervals does the 
public have the privilege of witness- 
ing the first production of a mas- 
terpiece, and even then the public 
cannot know how extraordinary the 
privilege is. A great work of art can 
hardly be appreciated by contempo- 
raries, and especially is this true if the 
work be dramatic. A play is the 
strangest of the art forms ; to be suc- 
cessful, it must possess those superfi- 
cial qualities which take the eye and 
have the price, and to be classic, it 
must have those qualities which lie 
beneath the surface and which only 
the next generation, and the next 
after that, can understand at their full 
value. 

In order to appreciate the Cid as it 
was appreciated at the time of its first 



CORNEILLE 

production, one ought to read a half- 
hundred plays by Comeille's immedi- 
ate predecessors. After a course of 
those tragedies and tragi-comedies in 
which the French dramatic instinct 
was struggling toward perfection of 
form and clarity of expression, the 
reader would be in a measure pre- 
pared to understand how the superb 
energy of thought and matchless 
beauty of diction appealed to an au- 
dience comprehending them for the 
first time. 

The Cid is not only a capital story 
dramatically told in spirited verse, but 
it is also a picture of heroic life and 
manners. It portrays the struggle 
between passion and filial duty. Chi- 
mene, the heroine of the play, loves 
and is loved by Don Rodrigue, after- 



CORNEILLE 

wards known as the 'Cid.' He has 
not the splendid ancestry of which 
another suitor, Don Sanche, is able to 
boast, but he has youth and courage. 
His house is famed for its warriors, 
and his aged father was in his day a 
marvel of valor. It is the girl's wish 
and secret prayer that her father, the 
stately Comte de Gormas, may ap- 
prove her choice, or rather that he 
may choose for her and as she would 
choose for herself In that charming 
scene between Chimene and her gou- 
vernante, the reader learns that the 
Comte de Gormas looks with satis- 
faction upon the prospect of an alli- 
ance between his daughter and Don 
Rodrigue. 

The Comte is aspirant for the 
honor of governor to the Prince of . 



CORNEILLE 

Castile. To his chagrin, the office is 
conferred upon Don Diegue, father of 
Don Rodrigue. They talk together, 
and in a moment of irritation the 
Comte de Gormas strikes the old 
man. To avenge the insult, young 
Don Rodrigue challenges Don Gor- 
mas and kills him in a duel. In so 
doing he avenges the honor of his 
house, but he robs the state of its 
greatest warrior, for Comte de Gor- 
mas was held to be invincible. He 
also becomes the murderer of his 
betrothed's father, and Chimene de- 
mands his life in expiation of the 
crime. 

The interest of this play centres in 

the struggle which goes on in Chi- 

mene's heart. The girl's love for Don 

Rodrigue as a lover contends with 

^51^ 



CORNEILLE 

her hatred of him as the slayer of her 
father. For the moment hatred seems 
to triumph. Chimene is superb in 
her implacabihty. The measure of 
her love is the intensity of her ardor 
for the punishment of the murderer. 
Don Rodrigue is none the less her 
ideal of manhood, youth, and chival- 
ric grace at the moment she implores 
the king for vengeance. And the 
question continually arises whether 
Chimene, who loathes Don Rodrigue 
as a murderer, would not have de- 
spised him as a coward had he failed 
in the piety due his own father. 

Don Rodrigue justifies the hopes 
centred in him as a possible de- 
fender of his native land. In repell- 
ing the assault of a Moorish army 
which descends upon Seville, he per- 



CORNEILLE 

forms deeds of valor more wonderful 
than those which had made the name 
of his father famous. He saves the 
state, strengthens the hands of his 
king, and brings back from the field 
of battle as captives two Moorish 
chieftains, who, struck by his prowess, 
salute him as their lord or seyd, that 
is, 'C\d: 

Chimene is persuaded to insist no 
longer upon revenge. She owes her 
own personal safety to the achieve- 
ments of Don Rodrigue. To him the 
nation owes its existence, and thou- 
sands of men, women, and children 
their lives and their happiness. The 
Cid is the national hero, the saviour 
of his country. It is not possible now 
to deal with him as an impetuous 
youth, over-quick to draw the sword 



CORNEILLE 

in defence of a father's honor ; he has 
become a part of the thought of every 
patriotic Spaniard, his life is more 
precious than the lives of other men. 
But with Don Rodrigue glory counts 
for nothing while Chimene is his 
enemy. He will cheerfully die in 
preference to living and bearing the 
burden of her hate. It is difficult to 
imagine a plot less easy of solution. 
That the girl should marry her lover 
is repugnant to one's conception of 
what human nature is or can be. It 
is almost equally repugnant to us to 
think of Chimene as remaining obdu- 
rate. Corneille handles the narrative 
with infinite tact, but without any re- 
laxation in his firm and broad treat- 
ment. The reconciliation of the lov- 
ers is effected through the influence 



CORNEILLE 

of the king. This reconciliation is 
not so complete and instantaneous as 
to jar upon the spectator, neither is it 
so incomplete as to leave a sense of 
hopelessness and unrest. 

Victorin Fabre, in his ' eloge ' on 
Comeille, describes the effect pro- 
duced by the Cid at its first presenta- 
tion in terms so eloquent and glow- 
ing as almost to awaken distrust. 
With due allowance for the splendor 
of the theme and the enthusiasm of 
the orator, there is little question that 
the play-going world was immensely 
moved on this occasion. Paris was 
enthusiastic, and the court not less so. 
The tragedy had three performances 
at the Louvre, and what seems strange 
to us in the light of subsequent 
events, two performances at the pal- 



CORNEILLE 

ace of the Cardinal. Taschereau says 
that Richeheu, ' not wishing to appear 
piqued by such a triumph, affected to 
complete the success ' by opening his 
own theatre to the fortunate play. 
Not only were the usual honors in 
the shape of applause and congratu- 
lations showered upon the happy 
author, but at the queen's request a 
patent of nobility was conferred upon 
Corneille's father. 

The Cid was the chief topic of 
conversation. The public wished to 
see nothing else. Richelieu tried to 
divert attention to a work of the ' five 
authors,' and gave a representation of 
the Aveugle de Smyrne at his palace 
before the king and the court. The 
time was not well chosen ; the Aveu- 
gle de Smyrne only helped by con- 
-1-56-!- 



CORNEILLE 

trast to accentuate the transcendent 
splendors of the Cid. There is an 
often quoted letter which Mondory 
wrote to Balzac, describing the enthu- 
siasm of the public over Corneille's 
tragedy. Mondory speaks with the 
honest delight of one who knows the 
satisfaction of playing to a crowded 
house. It seems that the social tri- 
umph was as great as the dramatic. 
People accustomed to the best seats 
in the theatre on ordinary occasions 
were thankful now to take the worst. 
Even the corners and out-of-the-way 
places, where the pages and retainers 
usually stood, were eagerly sought for 
by the quality. 

Pellisson's testimony is conclusive. 
He says : ' It is difficult to imagine 
with how great approbation this piece 
^57^ 



CORNEILLE 

was received by the court and the 
public. People could not weary of 
seeing it. One heard nothing else 
talked of in society. Every one knew 
some portion of it by heart. They 
taught it to children, and in some 
parts of France it passed into a pro- 
verb to say of a thing that it was as 
"beautiful as the Cidr' 

Nevertheless, a storm was gathering. 
Richelieu was not pleased. A less 
tyrannical personage than he might 
have been irritated to find that a hire- 
ling poet without I'esprit de suite 
could work so magnificently when 
released from his superintendence. 
There was a singular rumor in circula- 
tion at one time to the eflfect that 
Richelieu wished to buy the Cid, have 
it presented under his patronage, and 
^58^ 



CORNEILLE 

allow it to pass for his own work. 
Verily, they tell strange tales of public 
men. This particular story has gained 
credence because the Cardinal once 
offered an enormous sum for a piece 
called the Polyglotte^ by Le Jay. If 
Tallemant des Reaux is to be believed, 
Richelieu's anger toward the success- 
ful play reached such a pitch that 
Bois-Robert tried to appease and divert 
him by writing a parody on the Cid. 
This burlesque was played before his 
Eminence by lackeys and scullions, 
and it is to be hoped had the desired 
effect. 

The thing is not improbable. Men 
of very great powers are often ex- 
tremely childish and irritable in their 
diversions. They lose temper over a 
game of chess or an unlucky play in 



CORNEILLE 

golf, and are philosophical in the face 
of real trials and disappointments. 
The theatre was Richelieu's diversion. 
The Cardinal played this game of dra- 
matics with his whole heart and mind, 
and was bitter when he lost. 

Comeille always believed that 
Richelieu, together with some person 
of high rank, encouraged Scudery, Mai- 
ret, and others to make an attack upon 
the Cid. Professional jealousy was a 
motive sufficient to account for the 
origin of the attack, and to explain its 
peculiar virulence. But professional 
jealousy does not explain the sustained 
character, the unrelenting continuity 
of the attack ; that must be accounted 
for by something of greater force, some- 
thing less feverish than jealousy. The 
hostile party were sustained by the 



CORNEILLE 

consciousness of recommending them- 
selves to their master; they rejoiced 
in being able to gratify him who con- 
trolled both political and poetical re- 
wards. 

There was another cause for irrita- 
tion. The Cid seemed to justify the 
practice of duelling. The Cardinal 
had tried to suppress by capital pun- 
ishment the passion for settling ques- 
tions of honor at the point of the 
sword. Men were barbarians in those 
days, and fought on the most trivial 
provocation. Voltaire says somewhere 
that, in a given score of years, of which 
ten were years of war and ten years of 
nominal peace, more French gentle- 
men died by the hands of Frenchmen 
than by the hands of their enemies. 
But the Cardinal had even greater 
-»-6i -^ 



CORNEILLE 

cause for anger in seeing how, after he 
had employed his magnificent powers 
in abasing the House of Austria, a 
mere provincial poet could awaken a 
burst of enthusiasm in favor of Spanish 
ideals of chivalry and a Spanish na- 
tional hero. Fontenelle declares that 
Richelieu was as alarmed as if he had 
seen the Spaniards at the gates of 
Paris. 



•62- 



III 

^.^^ORNEILLE himself precipi- 
tated the 'quarrel of the Cid' He 
was not onl}; guilty of being success- 
ful, but in the eyes of his rivals the 
crime became heinous when he ven- 
tured to boast of success. Shortly 
after his triumph the poet printed the 
lines entitled Excuse a Ariste. In 
apologizing, half in jest and half in 
earnest, to a friend who had asked him 
to write a song, Corneille justifies his 
disinclination by the character of his 



CORNEILLE 

genius. His mind is restive amid the 
restrictions imposed by petty verses, 
but it loves an eagle-like flight amid 
the clouds. He claims the right to 
speak frankly of himself as is the cus- 
tom of the age. ' I know my worth,' 
he says ; ' I have organized no league 
to compel admiration. I have few 
voices raised in my favor, but I have 
those without solicitation. My work 
goes to the theatre without other sup- 
port; any one is free to praise it or to 
blame. I satisfy courtiers and people 
alike. In all places my verses are my 
only partisans. By their beauty alone 
is my pen valued, and all my renown 
I owe to myself, and only to myself. ' ^ 

^ Je sais ce que je vaux, et crois ce qu'on m'en dit. 

^ Pour me faire admirer, je ne fais point de ligue: 

-J- 64 -I- 



CORNEILLE 

The apparent vanity of these stanzas 
is explained by that universal expla- 
nation, the custom of the times. Peo- 
ple were na'ive. They boasted of their 
virtues. Shakespeare said that neither 
monuments nor the tombs of princes 

J'ai peu de voix pour moi, mais je les ai sans 

brigue; 
Et mon ambition, pour faire plus de bruit, 
Ne les va point queter de reduit en reduit. 
Mon travail sans appui monte sur le theatre: 
Chacun en liberte Vy blame ou Pidolatre; 
La, sans que mes amis prechent leurs sentiments, 
J'arrache quelquefois trop d'applaudissements; 
La, content du succes que le merite donne. 
Par d'illustres avis je n'eblouis personne. 
Je satisfais ensemble et peuple et courtisans, 
Et mes vers en tous lieux sonts mes seuls partisans; 
Par leur seule beaute ma plume est estimee, 
Et pense toutefois n' avoir point de rival 
A qui je passe tort en le traitant d'egal. 

Excuse a Ariste, 



CORNEILLE 

should outlive his powerful rhyme. 
What chances a poet takes in utter- 
ing a boast like that ! Corneille held 
much the same belief with respect to 
himself, and so far both Shakespeare 
and Corneille have been justified in 
their noble vanity. But such frank- 
ness is not for this century. If Caesar 
had been a modern commander, he 
would not have been allowed to 
* drench his good qualities in his first 
person singular ' as he did in that fa- 
mous despatch announcing his victory 
at Zela over Pharnaces. Men who 
achieve at the present time have but 
one recourse, which is to be praised 
in the newspapers and send marked 
copies to their friends. 

The Excuse a Ariste greatly irri- 
tated Corneille's fellow dramatists. It 
-+66 -I- 



CORNEILLE 

was easy to pervert the meaning of 
that line, 'Je ne dois qu'a moi seul 
toute ma renommee,' and to tell Cor- 
neille that he was a plagiarist who 
owed his renown entirely to Guillen 
de Castro. Mairet^ wrote and pub- 
lished anonymously some stanzas in 
which he makes the 'true author of 
the Cid' demand back the verses of 
which Corneille had robbed him : ' To 
me thou owest all thy renown.' It was 
almost another case of ' the upstart 
crow beautified with our feathers.' 

^ Jean de Mairet (i 604-1 686), one of the 
most precocious dramatic poets of the Seventeenth 
Century. His Chryseide et Arimand was writ- 
ten before he had completed his eighteenth year. 
Silvie, Silvanire, Sophonisbsy and the Galanteries 
du due d ' Ossone are his more noteworthy com- 
positions. 

-h67h^ 



CORNEILLE 

The motive which led Scudery and 
Mairet to attack Corneille was pre- 
cisely that which prompted Greene to 
attack Shakespeare, to wit, professional 
jealousy, hatred of a rival in whom 
a moderate success would have been 
fitting, but who becomes detestable 
as soon as he becomes triumphant. 

In resenting Corneille's claim to 
originality, and in reminding him of 
his debt to Guillen de Castro, his crit- 
ics were not speaking from the point 
of view of those who were themselves 
always original, and who, having no 
need to borrow, abstained from the 
practice of which he had been guilty. 
On the contrary, the notable fact about 
the French drama from 1630 to 1660 
was its lack of originality. Dramatic 
authors not only did not invent, but 
^68^ 



CORNEILLE 

they did not even pretend to invent. 
They borrowed right and left, and 
boasted the extent of their obHgations. 
Reynier says that they hardly seemed 
to suspect that there might be merit in 
originality. ' In their prefaces they 
plumed themselves not upon the exer- 
cise of their imaginative powers, but 
upon the happy choice of a model.' 
They drew from every source, the 
ancients, mediaeval poets and drama- 
tists, modern novelists, and above all 
from the Spanish playwrights. Cor- 
neille's contemporaries did not mean 
to accuse him of plagiarism as the 
term is commonly used, for all were 
plagiarists alike. The greater part of 
the comedies of Bois-Robert were 
taken from Spanish sources, and Rey- 
nier bluntly calls them ^ translations/ 



4 ^ /g ^tsgg y /S JK 

CORNEILLE 

Even if we grant that Corneille bor- 
rowed to the full extent charged by 
his most hostile critics, he would still 
be ' original ' compared with his con- 
temporaries. ^ Originality ' of inven- 
tion in the drama and in poetry gen- 
erally is a question that no longer 
troubles us. Who stops nowadays to 
question the originality of the Idylls 
of the King? Who would be so 
foolish as to ask whether the Earthly 
Paradise could be called an original 
work ? 

Corneille was right in saying that 
he owed his renown to himself alone. 
The Spanish drama lent him -much, 
but it could not teach him how to 
write the most stately and beautiful 
verse that had been heard up to that 
time upon the French stage. Neither 
-1-70-1- 



CORNEILLE 

could it teach him the art of being 
ruggedly independent in situations 
where Scudery took refuge in bombast 
and biting of the thumb, and where 
Bois-Robert was cringing and officious. 
Guizot once made a happy and 
penetrating remark on this question 
of originality. He said that genius 
was as necessary for choosing well and 
imitating happily as for inventing out- 
right. The whole field of Spanish 
dramatic literature was open to Cor- 
neille's contemporaries as well as to 
himself; but Corneille was the only 
one who had the wit to see the possi- 
bilities in the story of the Cid and in 
the plot of the Menteur} 

^ Guizot: Corneille et son temps , Paris, 1858, 
p. 201. 

-1-71 4- 



4 ^ /g ^t»g \ 1^ 

CORNEILLE 

Corneille was not the man to allow 
Mairet's attack to go unnoticed. He 
made a counter attack in a rondeau so 
bitter in tone that his most stalwart 
admirers do not entirely defend it. 
The publication of the rondeau had 
the effect of stirring up a new antago- 
nist. There appeared an anonymous 
pamphlet entitled Observations on the 
Cid. The rhetorical flourish of trum- 
pets with which the piece opened pro- 
claimed its authorship. It was by 
Georges de Scudery,^ a prolific play- 
wright, the brother of the famous 
Madeleine de Scudery, and later the 
governor of the fortress of Notre- 

^ Georges de Scudery (1601-1667). Among 
his best known plays are Lygdamon et Lydias, the 
Trompeur puni, the Comedie des Comediens, and 
the Amant liberal. 



CORNEILLE 

Dame-de-la-Garde. He was a man of 
great self-esteem. A modern critic 
dubs him ' Scudery le capitaine Fra- 
casse.' The fortress of which he had 
charge stood upon a high rock. The 
Marquise de Rambouillet said that 
she could not imagine de Scudery in 
command of a fortress which was situ- 
ated in a valley. She used to picture 
him in the act of living up to his con- 
ception of his importance, ' with head 
touching the clouds, his look fixed 
with contempt upon all beneath him.' 
Scudery declares that in penning 
his criticism he is not making a satire 
or a defamatory pamphlet, but a few 
'simple observations.' He does not 
distinguish accurately between libel 
and criticism. He says of the Cid 
that 'the subject itself is absolutely 



1 ^ ^ t r" n ^ 

CORNEILLE 

valueless : that the play violates the 
principal rules of dramatic poetry: that 
there is lack of judgment in its man- 
agement: that it contains many bad 
verses : that almost all the beauty it 
has is concealed : and that the esteem 
in which it is held is unjustly high.' 
He makes his points with infinite self- 
confidence. If the story of the Cid 
had any dramatic virtue, the honor of 
it, he says, would belong to its Spanish 
adapter, Guillen de Castro, and not to 
the French ' translator.' But as a sub- 
ject for a play it is valueless because 
there is no intrigue, no Gordian knot 
to be unloosed. Nothing is held in 
suspense. The dullest spectator knows 
the end from the beginning. More- 
over the play violates that law of the 
drama which insists that a story shall 



4 ^ ^ iAJi ^ -J^ 

CORNEILLE 

not run contrary to the probable course 
of human action in given circum- 
stances. No doubt Chinene married 
Don Rodrigue, it is a fact of history ; 
but it is most unHkely and altogether 
unnatural that a young woman of 
honor should wed her father's mur- 
derer. A fact may be useful to the 
historian which is of no value what- 
ever to the poet. 

After twenty-four pages of criticism 
in this sort, Scudery takes up the versi- 
fication. He accuses Corneille of us- 
ing words that are vulgar and unfit for 
poetry, of writing French with Ger- 
man constructions, of extravagance of 
expression, of employing a word with- 
out any particular meaning simply to 
make a rhyme. If Scudery had been 
a professor of literature rewriting the 
^75-*- 



CORNEILLE 

poems of Keats, he could not have 
been more exacting. 

To this attack Corneille replied in 
a little pamphlet which has been 
described as a model of style; it is 
entitled, Lettre apologetique du sieur 
Corneille^ contenant sa reponse aux Ob- 
servations faites par le sieur Scudery 
sur le Cid. After the publication of 
this letter, Scudery appealed to the 
Academy to judge between them. 
The Cardinal insisted that the Acad- 
emy pronounce upon the question, 
and through Bois-Robert secured Cor- 
neille's consent to such pronounce- 
ment. In the mean time the quarrel 
became general. 

Corneille was indignant that men 
who professed to be his friends should 
have assailed him anonymously. He 



CORNEILLE 

thought it ungenerous in Mairet to 
accuse him of plagiarism, and con- 
temptible in Claveret, another pre- 
tended friend, to distribute Mairet's 
verses about Paris. In the Lettre 
apologetique Corneille gives vent to his 
indignation. He mentions Claveret 
by name, and couples the name with 
a plain and truthful phrase. Claveret 
took umbrage at the expression and 
attacked Corneille. Having little to 
offer in the way of argument, he de- 
scended to abuse. He says to Cor- 
neille : ' Bear in mind that in prose 
you are the most impertinent of those 
who know how to talk. The coldness 
and stupidity of your nature are such 
that your conversation excites pity 
among all who endure your visits. In 
good society and in the eyes of culti- 



CORNEILLE 

vated people you pass for the most 
ridiculous of men.' 

This was cruel, and the more cruel 
because it was partly true. Comeille 
was not a good converser. He as- 
tonished admirers by his incapability 
when for the first time they heard him 
talk. Ideas came to him readily in 
the Uterary work-shop, but not in the 
drawing-room. He would hesitate, 
become embarrassed, ' take one word 
for another,' almost break down. 
Conde said of Corneille that it was 
only possible to understand him at 
Hotel de Bourgogne. The poet freely 
acknowledged it. 'I have a fertile 
pen and a sterile mouth,' he said in 
that little pen-portrait of himself which 
he addressed to Pellisson. He was 
by his own confession ' an excellent 
^78^ 



CORNEILLE 

gallant at the theatre and a very bad 
one in society.' But people who 
knew him had learned not to judge 
him by his ability at small talk. 

A torrent of pamphlets came from 
the press, some defending Corneille, 
others attacking him, others still tak- 
ing a neutral attitude. The fecundity 
of the disputants was amazing. Col- 
porteurs sold the pamphlets in the 
street as newsboys cry their extras at 
the present day. It is impossible now 
to identify the writers in every case, 
but the chief parties to the quarrel, 
Comeille on the one hand, Scudery, 
Mairet and Claveret on the other, 
signed a number of their papers. Ro- 
trou,^ a man of fine spirit and a poet 

^ Jean Rotrou (i 609-1 650). His best works 



CORNEILLE 

of genius, remained loyal to Corneille, 
but his attitude was more conciliatory 
than partisan in this affair. 

Mairet was roughly handled by Cor- 
neille's friends and became very angry. 
He had no humor. He wished to 
make his enemy a target for invec- 
tive, but was unwilling to be used in 
like fashion. He wrote the Epitre 
familiere du sieur Mairet au sieur Cor- 
neille sur la tragi-comedie du Cid^ ' in 
which,' says Taschereau, 'he com- 
pared the works of Corneille with his 
own and did not hesitate to give him- 
self the preference ; this was both natu- 
ral and easy.' Again, one cannot too 

are Saint-Genest, Don Bernard de Cabrere, 
Vencelasy and Cosroes, He was without doubt 
the most gifted dramatic poet of his time after 
Corneille. 

— »-8o4— 



CORNEILLE 

much admire the naivete of dramatic 
authors in 1637. They had unshaken 
confidence in their own powers, and 
the serenity of children in the way 
in which they tried to do themselves 
justice. They would not have been 
patient under the discipline of ' Let 
another praise thee/ 

The hostilities might have contin- 
ued no one knows how long, had not 
the Cardinal interfered. Richelieu, 
' whose sole desire was to arrest the 
growing reputation of Corneille, but 
who wished the arrest to be brought 
about by other means than personal 
quarrels, interposed his authority.' 
He had Bois-Robert write to Mairet 
that so long as these pamphlets dis- 
played only innocent raillery and 
lively combats of wit, he was much 



CORNEILLE 

diverted. But when he saw them 
become injurious and threatening, he 
determined to stop their course. He 
therefore commanded Mairet, if he 
desired the continuation of the Cardi- 
nal's good graces, to put his injuries 
underfoot. A like injunction was 
sent to Corneille. In brief^ there was 
to be a truce. 

In the letter to Mairet, Bois-Robert 
added a few words on his own account, 
or at least pretended that he did. ' Up 
to this point I have spoken by the 
mouth of His Eminence, but to tell 
you truly what I think of your pro- 
cedure, I believe that you have suffi- 
ciently punished poor Monsieur Cor- 
neille for his vanities, and that his feeble 
defence does not demand arms so 
strong and penetrating as yours. One 



CORNEILLE 

of these days you will see his Cid very 
ill treated by the Sentiments of the 
Academy. The printing of the piece 
is well under way, and if you come 
to Paris this month, I will send it to 
you.' 

The relations between Richelieu and 
Bois-Robert were never better exem- 
plified than in this letter. In the first 
paragraphs we have the Cardinal com- 
manding peace, and in the latter para- 
graphs Bois-Robert, who in a case like 
this is always the Cardinal speaking 
unofficially, giving a covert thrust at 
the reputation of that ' poor Monsieur 
Comeille.' The method was abso- 
lutely perfect. ' I could n't lie and 
so I got Harris to do it,' was the ob- 
servation of a wit who understood 
human nature better than do most 
^83^ 



CORNEILLE 

men. The Cardinal could not descend 
to personal abuse and threats, but he 
had only to lift his eyebrows and Bois- 
Robert did the ungracious task. 

For the present the dispute was 
raised officially to a higher plane. 
The attack upon Corneille promised 
to be none the less determined be- 
cause it was to be conducted by an 
army of critics, and there was every 
indication that it would be much 
more effective. 

Scudery, as we have already noted, 
had made an appeal to the Academy. 
' He bravely transformed the duel 
into a law-suit,' says the Abbe Fabre. 
His document was a little pamphlet 
of eleven pages entitled, Lettre de 
M. de Scudery a Vlllustre Academie. 
The author says : ' Since M. Comeille 



CORNEILLE 

has taken off my mask and desires the 
public to know who I am, I profess 
myself too well accustomed to appear- 
ing among people of quality to wish 
still to hide myself ... In truth, since 
he desires that all the world shall know 
that I am called Scudery, I confess 
it. I shall never blush for that name 
which many worthy people have borne 
before me, seeing that I, no more than 
they, have done anything unworthy 
of a man of honor. But as it is in- 
glorious to strike an enemy whom one 
has hurled to the ground, although 
the enemy utters maledictions, and 
since it is but just to allow the afflicted 
though culpable the right of com- 
plaint, I do not wish to reply to his 
outrages, nor like him to turn an aca- 
demic dispute into a contest in Bil- 



CORNEILLE 

lingsgate, or a lyceum into a public 
market.' 

This lofty tone on the part of a man 
whose dignity was purely on the out- 
side, and not dignity of thought or of 
character, has amused the commenta- 
tors. Scudery goes on to affirm that 
the success of the Cid is not due to the 
poet, but to the actors who presented 
the over-praised and by no means sur- 
passingly excellent tragedy. How was 
it possible, then, that he should be 
envious of a piece which has so many 
faults, and the beauties of which are 
only such as have been given to it by 
the actors, Mondory, La Villiers, and 
their companions ? ' However, your 
illustrious body shall judge between 
us.' 

Scudery's tone indicates that he felt 
^86^ 



CORNEILLE 

sure of his grdund. Was he so con- 
vinced of the justice of his cause as to 
believe it impossible for discerning 
men to think other than he himself 
thought ? Or had the Cardinal in a 
moment of over-confidence promised 
Scudery that the decision should be 
adverse ? There is much to convince 
the student that Richelieu took for 
granted an almost slavish obsequious- 
ness on the part of the Academy to 
his known or implied wish. In the 
light of what followed, we can hardly 
overestimate the extent of his dis- 
appointment. The English are not 
the only stiff-necked and independent 
race in Europe as their own historians 
would have us believe. No English 
legislative body bent on maintaining 
its rights and the rights of the people 



CORNEILLE 

could have held out more tenaciously 
than did the Parliament of Paris when 
it was a question of registering the 
edict for the establishment of the Aca- 
demic fran9aise. That same Academy 
in turn required extraordinary pres- 
sure to compel it to do its duty by 
the Cardinal its Protector. One can 
but liken this body to an energetic, 
vigorous, opinionated boy, who re- 
quires both coaxing and threats to 
make him do what his judgment and 
his prejudices rebel against. He yields 
at last, but he yields unwillingly and 
with mental reservations. 

It was with more than common 
unwillingness that the Academy un- 
dertook the task of censuring Cor- 
neille's tragedy. The members tried 
all reasonable ways of evading the 



CORNEILLE 

point at issue. They excused them- 
selves on the ground of youth and 
unpreparedness. They appealed to 
their statutes, which forbade them to 
pass judgment upon the writings of 
men not of their body unless such 
judgment was particularly asked for ; 
the Cardinal forced Comeille to ask 
for the Academy's opinion. Not 
only was an opinion wrung from 
them, but extraordinary pains were 
taken by the Cardinal to insure an 
unfavorable opinion. In this he par- 
tially failed. These facts do not 
point to an excess of obsequiousness 
on the part of the Academy. 

After all, why should the Cid be 
exempt from criticism more than an- 
other play ? That it was immeasur- 
ably better than any other play of the 
-1-89+- 



CORNEILLE 

time is not equivalent to saying that 
it was absolutely beyond criticism. 
It is not thought sacrilege to speak of 
its faults at the present day. I take 
up Boissier's monograph on Madame 
de Sevigne and find him commenting 
on the Cid as if its ' inequalities of 
tone, its haughty familiarities, and its 
rudenesses of touch ' were a matter of 
course, perfectly understood by all 
critics, and not offensive to Corneille's 
audience because the audience had 
not yet risen to the conception of a 
' more scrupulous finish, a more sus- 
tained dignity and elegance.' If it is 
permitted to speak thus of Corneille 
in the Nineteenth Century, how much 
more so in the Seventeenth. Cor- 
neille and his genius were not as yet 
sacred, and the enduring virtues of 



CORNEILLE 

great poetical works can only be seen 
at long range. To his contempora- 
ries, no man can be a classic ; at least 
there will be strong opposition when 
an attempt is made prematurely to 
elevate a poet to a station among 
immortal bards. This is one of the 
things we are bound to keep in mind, 
especially when we find ourselves in- 
clined to grow angry at the hard 
treatment meted out to him by Cor- 
neille's fellows. He was simply one 
of themselves. Many a man has seen 
Shelley plain and liked him consider- 
ably less on that account. 

On June 16, 1637, a commission 
was appointed to examine the Cid 
and Scudery's Observations. There 
were three members, Bourzeys, Chape- 
lain, and Desmarests de Saint-Sorlin. 



CORNEILLE 

Another commission, consisting of 
Cerisy, Gombauld, and Baro, had for 
a special task the examination of the 
verse. They deUberated in ordinary 
and extraordinary sessions, and after 
summing up the results of their la- 
bors, turned over the materials to 
Chapelain, who drew up the final pa- 
per and presented it to the Cardinal. 
The latter was so confident of success 
that he suggested ' throwing in a 
handful of flowers here and there.' 
The memoir was then retumed to the 
Academy for the finishing touches. 
This task fell to Serizay, Cerisy, 
Gombauld, and Sirmond. On com- 
pletion the paper was sent to press 
and the earlier pages transmitted to 
the Cardinal. He read them, and 
immediately ordered the impression 



CORNEILLE 

stopped. In suggesting a ' few flow- 
ers,' the Cardinal had not meant that 
everything was to be smothered in 
rose leaves. The severity of the criti- 
cisms had been too greatly mitigated. 
This was Cerisy's doing. The gener- 
ous abbe's feeling toward the Cid was 
of hearty admiration ; he wished it 
might have been his privilege to write 
such a work. Chapelain attempted 
to defend his fellow Academician, but 
presently desisted, knowing Riche- 
lieu's intolerance of contradiction. 
For he saw that the Cardinal was 
beginning to grow heated over the 
question. Pellisson has a lively little 
picture of the scene. Richelieu took 
Chapelain by the tassels of his collar 
all the time he talked, 'as one does 
without thinking when one wishes to 



CORNEILLE 

be emphatic or to convince some one 
of a certain thing ; ' in this way they 
used to ' button-hole ' a man. 

The committee perfectly under- 
stood what the Cardinal was after, and 
Sirmond undertook to reedit the pa- 
per. He failed, in spite of the fact 
that 'his style was very good and 
entirely ftee from affectation.' We 
have a right to suspect that it was 
not a case where improvement in 
the style could satisfy. The Cardinal 
wanted his literary enemy condemned, 
and he found difficulty in bringing it 
about. In something like despair he 
returned to the original sketch made 
by Chapelain. This was printed with 
very few corrections or other changes, 
and is the official utterance of the 
Academic fran9aise on the great ques- 



CORNEILLE 

tion which had agitated so many 
minds during so long a period. The 
exact title as given in Gaste's reprint 
is : Les Sentimens de rAcademie fran- 
foise sur la tragi-comedie du CID. It 
bears the date 1638, but was printed 
toward the close of 1637. 

It has been criticised in turn from 
every point of view and in every 
shade of critical temper. These opin- 
ions vary from the bitterly hostile to 
the complacently approving. Parti- 
sans and devotees of Corneille are no 
better pleased with the pamphlet now 
than was Corneille himself when it 
first appeared. 

Knowing as we do that Chapelain 
was the principal author of the Senti- 
ments^ it is not difficult to explain its 
narrowness of view. Chapelain wrote 



CORNEILLE 

in verse, not because he had the di- 
vine gift of song, but because he had 
determined to become a poet Verse 
was not his natural vehicle of expres- 
sion. He composed poetry ' as a bird 
walks.' Never having been wafted 
away on ' song's bright pinions,' he 
was incapable of understanding the 
flights and raptures of a genuine poet. 
He was bound to be critical, wise, 
unimpassioned, and without sympathy. 
It was natural that he should look 
askance at a work so gloriously spon- 
taneous as the Cid. Being what he 
was, how could he help running a 
blue pencil mark through this, and a 
red pencil mark through that ? 

Furthermore, he was the embodi- 
ment of law, the personification of the 
Academic spirit. There would be 



4 ^ m ij 0^ /^ 

CORNEILLE 

eminent fitness in regarding Chape- 
lain as the inventor of the Three Uni- 
ties, even if there were less historic 
ground than really exists for so re- 
garding him. More than any other 
writer he gave the doctrine form and 
expression. What had been, hith- 
erto, vague, intangible, and of little 
authority, became in his hands 'a 
dogma and an orthodoxy.' Other 
men had seized upon a point here 
and a point there ; Chapelain grasped 
the doctrine in its entirety and stated 
it with classical precision. He con- 
verted Richelieu, who in turn con- 
verted others. The circles of influ- 
ence widened until all the dramatic 
poets were more or less affected. The 
converts were not invariably true to 
the new profession of faith ; but when 
^97^ 



CORNEILLE 

they went astray, they were sure to 
apologize, to explain, or even to try 
desperately ' to juggle with the rules.' 
For the moment ' law ' triumphed. 
It were asking too much of human 
nature to demand that Chapelain, the 
most conspicuous leader in the war 
of the Unities, judge the Cid by other 
standards than those which, in his 
heart of hearts, he believed to be cor- 
rect. Such a man will create the im- 
pression of narrowness in the very 
effort to be just. 

In one way the Sentiments was a 
novelty — it was gentleman-like in 
manner. Therefore it may be ac- 
counted an extraordinary production 
for the times. All the hostile pam- 
phlets lacked urbanity, and not a few 
were positively brutal. One of the 



CORNEILLE 

disputants affirmed that Corneille's 
proper place was in a hospital for idi- 
ots ; another threatened to cane him 
with a view to curing him of poetic 
vanity. ' In spite of certain exagger- 
ations . . . the general tone of the 
Sentiments is remarkable for extreme 
moderation, remarkable also for the 
elegance, distinction, and urbanity of 
the language.' 

If Richelieu had small reason to be 
satisfied, Scudery had even less. The 
' capitan ' was handled with courte- 
ous severity. Chapelain seems to 
take malicious satisfaction in explain- 
ing how often in his critique Scudery 
misses the real point ; the objection is 
justly made, but the reason assigned is 
bad or foolish. 

Were it only for its urbanity, the 
^99^ 



CORNEILLE 

Sentiments would take a high rank in 
critical literature. Chapelain may be 
pardoned his attitude towards a poem 
of which the most sublime and peren- 
nial beauties must after all have been 
hidden from his gaze. If he saw de- 
fects in the Cid, he also acknowledged 
its fine qualities. He granted that it 
was ' irregular,' but he reminded the 
readers that the defect was common 
in the dramatic works of the time, and 
was Corneille to be condemned be- 
cause he had not wrought miracles ? 



lOOH 



IV 

^^^ORNEILLE'S discouragement 
was great, as may be imagined. That 
proud faith in the stability of his 
powerful rhyme was not sufficient to 
restore his mental equilibrium. He 
seems to have had the feeling of 
one who has been bruised, hounded, 
lacerated even, a state of mind most 
unfavorable to poetic composition. 
And there was something of timidity 
mixed with his profession of confi- 
dence. 



CORNEILLE 

We get a vivid picture of all this 
from a letter written by Chapelain 
to Balzac early in 1639. Chapelain 
speaks of Corneille's return to Paris 
three days since, and says that the poet 
has been to see him, and has accused 
him, ' not without reason,' of being the 
principal author of the Sentiments. 
' He has accomplished nothing more,' 
continues Chapelain, ' and Scudery in 
quarreling with him has gained that 
much; he has made Corneille dis- 
gusted with work and has dried up his 
vein. I animated and encouraged 
him as much as I could to avenge him- 
self both on Scudery and his protector 
[the Academy] by making a new Cid 
to win the suffrages of the world ; . . . 
but there was no way of persuading 
him, and he talked only of the rules, 

-H 102-4- 



CORNEILLE 

and of the things he was able to say- 
in response to the Academicians were 
he not afraid of offending those in 
authority.' 

This is the picture of a man wholly 
discouraged. But it is pleasant to 
have Chapelain's word for it that he 
tried to arouse Comeille's interest in 
his mission as a poet. The advice 
was sound, albeit it came from a critic 
who was the unwilling instrument of 
a good deal of the torture that had 
been inflicted upon Corneille. There 
was but one way in which the author 
of the Cid could really vindicate him- 
self, and that was by writing another 
poem just as good as the Cid. Chape- 
lain has been so universally abused 
during the centuries that I am confi- 
dent he must have had conspicuous 
-H io3*H- 



CORNEILLE 

virtues. I should be glad to think 
that his advice had some weight with 
the poet, and that among the im- 
pulses which led to the composition 
of Horace was the word spoken 
that morning at Chapelain's house. 
Within a year from that time the new 
play was finished. It was presented 
either in January or February of 1640, 
and won universal approval. There 
was talk of a cabal against it, but 
nothing appeared in print. Corneille 
said proudly : ' Horace was condemned 
by the Duumvirs but acquitted by the 
people.' Horace was the first of the 
French tragedies to conform absolutely 
to the rules. The poet had meditated 
to good purpose. The classic drama 
now came to perfect flower. The 
triumph was the greater because Cor- 
-»• 104-*- 



4 ^ /S ^f jaft ^ 

CORNEILLE 

neille showed in this play that fetter 
his genius as the pedants would, it was 
still a transcendent genius. After 
Horace^ nothing was left: for the critics 
to say. 

I am one of those who hold that he 
who was not born to the inheritance 
of a certain language will always find 
insuperable obstacles to a thorough 
comprehension of the high poetry of 
that language. This does not mean 
that no one but a Frenchman can 
understand Corneille; it means that 
there are subtle beauties in Corneille 
which only a Frenchman can under- 
stand. The Germans teach us many 
new things about Shakespeare, things 
undreamt of in our homely philosophy. 
We still plod along in the old belief 
that Shakespeare wrote his plays partly 



CORNEILLE 

from the love of writing, partly because 
it was his business to write plays, 
partly because he had a family to 
maintain and a theatre to fill, and in 
very large part because he was a poet 
by instinct and was bound by the law 
of his being to express himself But 
the German scholars, who would have 
us believe that Shakespeare designed 
to teach any one of a hundred remark- 
able doctrines in his drama, cannot 
with all their erudition help us in the 
least to that supreme enjoyment which 
is ours because English is our native 
tongue. 

This play of Horace has its recon- 
dite charms which appeal only to the 
French mind, its delicacies of versifi- 
cation which only the French ear can 
appreciate ; but at the same time there 
-♦•106 -1-^ 



CORNEILLE 

is no tragedy by the great master 
which makes so direct and strong an 
appeal to reader or hearer through 
quahties in the highest degree popular. 
The texture of the piece is firmly knit. 
The plot is striking and cumulative 
in interest. The language is ener- 
getic, every phrase, every word, preg- 
nant with meaning. If any poet or 
any play can make a patriotism so 
exalted seem both possible and real, 
Corneille is the poet to do it, and 
Horace the play. We perhaps get 
a better idea of the logic of the dra- 
matic form from Horace than from 
any other piece. The march of 
events is irresistible. The various 
scenes and acts are perfect in them- 
selves and yet inalienably the parts of 
a great whole. It is a superb illustra- 

-H 107-1- 



CORNEILLE 

tion of how the most striking dra- 
matic effects can be produced without 
the aid of mechanical appliances, with- 
out even that ridiculous pretense at a 
combat with swords to which long- 
suffering audiences are regularly sub- 
jected in warlike plays, when two 
men make a show of fighting on the 
stage, but take most palpable care not 
to hurt each other and especially not 
to be hurt. Some playwrights would 
have laid the greatest possible stress 
on the actual encounter between the 
Horatii and the Curatii. In Cor- 
neille's Horace this scene is described, 
not presented dramatically. When 
Camille is slain by her brother, the 
actual deed does not take place upon 
the stage. 

The play presents a picture of that 
^io8-i- 



CORNEILLE 

type of patriotism which has seldom 
existed among any people or in any 
time, but which was believed to exist 
in the heroic days of the Roman re- 
public. The first scene makes clear 
to us the situation, and shows how 
divided were the interests both pri- 
vate and public. The rival cities, 
Rome and Albe, have joined issue 
in war. Their two armies are con- 
fronting each other. Sabine, the wife 
of Horace, is of Albe; her brothers, 
the three Curiaces, are in the hostile 
army. Camille, the sister of Horace, 
is betrothed to one of the Curiaces. 
These unhappy women are divided 
between love and patriotism. Loy- 
alty to one's husband or one's lover 
means disloyalty to one's native land. 
To avoid needless bloodshed, it is 



4 ^ /^ ts ^ f^ 

CORNEILLE 

agreed that the dispute shall be set- 
tled by a combat between six chosen 
warriors, three for Rome, three for 
Albe. The defenders of Rome are 
Horace and his brothers; the de- 
fenders of the cause of the mother city 
are Curiace and his brothers. There 
is a notable scene in the second act 
which shows Curiace and Horace in 
marked contrast. The great Roman 
warrior has been told of his election to 
the high office of defender of his city. 
He questions the wisdom of the 
choice, but is ravished at the thought 
that he is held worthy to take into 
his keeping the destinies of the state. 
Flavian then enters, bringing the word 
to Curiace that he has been chosen to 
defend the cause of Albe. Curiace 
shudders at the thought of lifting his 



CORNEILLE 

hand against the brother of his be- 
trothed, against his sister's husband. 
To Horace, whose ecstasy of patri- 
otism has a touch of the barbaric in it, 
there is a higher virtue and a greater 
joy in the sacrifice of those whom 
one holds most dear to the good of 
the country. 

Corneille follows Livy closely in 
his narrative of the actual combat. 
Horace alone returns from the battle- 
field, accompanied by Procule bear- 
ing the swords of the three Curiaces. 
He calls on his sister to rejoice in that 
victory which, though it has brought 
death to her lover, has brought life to 
the state. Camille, more human than 
Horace, cannot rise to a patriotism so 
splendid, so self-abnegatory, and at 
the same time so brutal. She bursts 



CORNEILLE 

into that passionate denunciation be- 
ginning — 

Rome, P unique objet de mon ressentiment ! 

and is slain by Horace as a traitress. 
Horace is pardoned, because the in- 
terests of the state are greater and 
more vital than the interests of an 
individual. 

Was it courage or sheer audacity, 
ironical humor or self-interest, which 
prompted Corneille to dedicate this 
tragedy of Horace to Cardinal Riche- 
lieu? In the light of the events 
which had just taken place, one would 
scarcely think of his Eminence as the 
person to whom the honor rightfully 
belonged. Moreover, there are phrases 
in this dedicatory epistle which, if not 
servile, — and Corneille was too open- 
minded and honest to be servile in 



1 



CORNEILLE 



the grosser meaning of the word, — 
must be interpreted as irony of the 
most daring sort. Voltaire, that scor- 
pion of kings and prelates, believed 
that Comeille meant to be ironical, 
and quotes in proof of it the sonnet 
which the poet wrote after the death 
of Louis XIII. 

I cannot see an absolute lack of 
independence in the phrasing of this 
dedication. We must consider the 
times. Men rendered unto Csesar 
the things that were Caesar's, includ- 
ing florid ascriptions of praise. As 
the bows were more profound than 
now, so the language in which one 
addressed those great in station was 
highly colored, mannered, pictur- 
esque. Where society was as thor- 
oughly organized as in the first half 



CORNEILLE 

of the Seventeenth Centur}% men and 
women went through their parts like 
soldiers. They were drilled into the 
observance of forms and taught rever- 
ence for customs. One was able to 
see what Ruskin wanted to see in our 
day, kings with their crowns on their 
heads and bishops with their croziers 
in their hands. If one entered into 
this society, he must conform to its 
laws. Not every prince will have the 
wit or the patience of Charles II, who 
took off his own hat when George 
Fox refused to uncover. Corneille 
addressed Richelieu in the sophisti- 
cated and insincere phrases of a pub- 
lic dedication, which one might be- 
lieve or not, but the form of which 
was predetermined, and as rigid as a 
court costume. 

-H 114-1- 



CORNEILLE 

So far as t±ie fact is concerned, it 
remains for some daring critic to sug- 
gest that Richelieu asked for the ded- 
ication, that is to say, made known 
his willingness to accept it. We 
must not forget the imperious quality 
of Comeille's genius. He was the 
idol of the public. He was adored 
of Hotel de Rambouillet. Thirty- 
three years after the production of 
Horace^ Madame de Sevigne said, 'I 
am crazy over Corneille.' All the 
world was in that condition in 1640. 
The man was so immeasurably supe- 
rior to his dramatic contemporaries 
that the fact was blindingly signifi- 
cant. He who denied was as one 
who denied the existence of the sun 
from whose rays he was that moment 
seeking shelter. There is nothing 
-H 115-*- 



CORNEILLE 

fantastic in the supposition that Cor- 
neille knew beforehand that his dedi- 
cation would be acceptable to Riche- 
lieu. 

The poet laments that the gift he 
brings is so little worthy of the Cardi- 
nal, and so ill proportioned to what is 
due. The choice of a subject cannot 
be condemned at any rate ; and Cor- 
neille feels that he has guarantee of 
this in the words of Livy, who said of 
the story of Horatius, ' There is hardly 
anything more noble in all the past.' 
'The subject,' says Corneille, 'was 
susceptible of the highest graces 
could it have been treated by a more 
skilful hand ; but at least it has re- 
ceived from mine all of which that 
hand was capable, and all that could 
reasonably be expected from a pro- 
-H ii6h- 



\ 



^i ^ ' ^^ Ji^ =^ 

CORNEILLE 

vincial muse, who not being so happy 
as often to enjoy the attentions of 
Your Eminence, has not that lamp 
to her feet by which others are contin- 
ually lighted.' The phrases did not 
sound grotesque to people who read 
them in 1640; they are grotesque 
to us who reflect how little Scudery 
and I'Estoile were able to accomplish, 
though illuminated daily by those 
favorable glances which Corneille's 
provincial muse had to do without. 

Cinna^ ou la clemence d^ August e^ 
dates from this same year, 1640. The 
story is based on an episode in the 
life of Octavian. Emilie, daughter of 
Toranius, seeks to avenge the death of 
her father, who was proscribed during 
the Triumvirate. She is one of Cor- 
neille's most characteristic heroines, 
-J- 117-*- 



CORNEILLE 

beautiful, steadfast, implacable. Her 
lover, Cinna, a grandson of Pompee, 
and therefore Octavian's enemy by 
political inheritance, is the chief of a 
conspiracy to overthrow the govern- 
ment and murder the Emperor. Both 
Emilie and Cinna are recipients of 
many favors and of high honors at the 
emperor's hands. Cinna has moments 
of doubt, in which he almost repents 
of his undertaking. Emilie, less infirm 
of purpose, holds her lover to his pa- 
triotic mission, and makes the emper- 
or's life the price of her hand. When 
their plot is discovered and they are 
brought before Auguste, each tries to 
defend the other. Emilie takes the 
blame upon herself, protesting that 
she had tempted Cinna to join the 
conspiracy, as she had tempted many 
-H- ii8-*- 



CORNEILLE 

besides. She offers herself as a vic- 
tim, though she cannot hope that her 
lover will be spared because of her 
self-accusation. When a crime has 
been committed against the state, 
there is no excuse. To die in Cin- 
na's presence and rejoin her father, — 
that is her only hope and prayer. 

Cinna, anxious to save her life, 
declares that he alone must bear the 
responsibility. He had laid this plan 
long before he loved her. She was 
at first inflexible, and only yielded 
when he made appeal to her wish to 
take vengeance for her father's death. 
Auguste, in whose mind there has 
been a struggle between the desire to 
forgive and the desire to punish, tri- 
umphs over any ungenerous motive, 
and in the greatness of his soul par- 



CORNEILLE 

dons both conspirators. He unites 
them to each other in wedlock, and 
to himself by every bond which grati- 
tude and admiration can suggest. 

The tragedy of Cinna was dedicated 
to Montauron, who was so flattered 
thereby that he gave the author two 
hundred pistoles, a fabulous sum even 
in that period of reckless expendi- 
ture. Montauron was instantly turned 
into a proverb. A particularly florid 
dedication, and one likely on that 
account to elicit a handsome gift, was 
always spoken of as a dedication ' a 
la Montauron.' The expression was 
all the better for being true. The 
gentleman was noted for his liberality 
towards men of letters. It is a pity 
for their sake that his money did not 
last longer. Marty-Laveaux quotes 

-H- I20-H- 



CORNEILLE 

from Gueret's Parnasse reforme two 
articles, which show how the financier's 
name was the subject of envious sport 
in the fraternity of writers. Among 
the reforms proposed were these : ' Ar- 
ticle X, It is forbidden to lie in dedi- 
catory epistles ; ' and ' Article XII, All 
dedications a la Montauron are to be 
suppressed.' 

Polyeucte^ martyr^ was produced in 
1643. This 'tragedie chretienne ' is 
Corneille's masterpiece. The story is 
briefly this : — 

Pauline, daughter of Felix, the 
Roman govemor of Armenia, has 
married Polyeucte, an Armenian lord. 
In Rome she had been beloved by 
Severe, a brilliant young soldier, and 
had loved him in return. Her father's 
appointment to the governorship, and 
-^ 121 +- 



CORNEILLE 

his natural opposition to accepting as 
son-in-law a man who had his fortune 
yet to make, puts an end to the hopes 
of Pauline and Severe. The girl fol- 
lows her father to his province, the 
soldier seeks renown through a heroic 
death. 

Polyeucte becomes enamored of 
Pauline. She marries him because 
her father desires it. By this alliance 
with a powerful Armenian house, 
Felix hopes to strengthen his influence 
in the province. Pauline gives her 
husband from duty an affection which 
she could have given Severe from in- 
clination. Among the varied interests 
in this fine play, there is but one more 
absorbing than the growth of Pauline's 
love for her husband. As she realizes 
the greatness of his soul, his generosity, 



, 9^ /? ^t4g ^ /^ 

CORNEILLE 

his self-forgetfulness, Pauline's mea- 
sured respect and tempered obedience 
grow into pride and admiration, then 
into passion, culminating as the action 
of the play proceeds in the desire for 
martyrdom with Polyeucte. 

Severe was not killed in battle as had 
been believed. After heroic deeds 
and many adventures, he has risen to 
high rank, and has become the favorite 
of the Emperor Decie. He is now 
on his way to the capital of Armenia, 
ostensibly to take part in the great 
public sacrifices, really to claim Pau- 
line. Felix is in distress at his 
approach. So, too, is Pauline, who has 
been warned in a dream that Severe's 
coming means not alone reproaches, 
but disaster and death. 

Polyeucte, though a convert to 



CORNEILLE 

Christianity, has made no pubUc con- 
fession of his belief Spurred on by 
the exhortations of Nearque, his friend, 
he rises to that height of zeal which 
was characteristic of the early martyrs, 
and denounces the old gods in the 
very temple at the hour of the public 
sacrifices. The two Christians are 
thrown into prison. Nearque is put 
to death at once; Polyeucte, as a noble- 
man and the son-in-law of the governor, 
is given an opportunity to recant. 

The most subtly planned devices 
cannot shake his faith, while the bru- 
tality of persecution and torture only 
serves to confirm it. He sees the pun- 
ishment of Nearque and is filled with 
envy. Confronted with his wife, who 
pleads with him to recant and aban- 
don these ridiculous phantasms of 



CORNEILLE 

the Christian belief, he finds himself 
put to the severest test. But he is 
unshaken. Pauline pleads her love ; 
she reminds him of his rank, his influ- 
ence, of his noble deeds and his rare 
qualities. The appeal to love and 
ambition are alike useless. Polyeucte 
loves Pauline, — less than his God, 
but better far than himself He has 
ambition, but for a happiness ' without 
measure and without end.' He is 
lifted to so exalted a height of self- 
abandonment that he begs Severe to 
accept at his hands the greatest of his 
treasures and the one of which he is 
the least worthy, — Pauline. 

Though the death of Polyeucte will 
leave Severe free to marry Pauline, 
his generous nature revolts against a 
persecution so odious. He urges Felix 



CORNEILLE 

to relax the law against Christians. 
The governor fears a plot to betray 
him for weakness in administering the 
affairs of the province. He can prove 
his sincerity by putting his son-in-law 
to death. He thinks to meet craft with 
craft; and though the people clamor 
for Polyeucte's release, while Severe 
warns, and Pauline begs with an elo- 
quence born of a love that almost sur- 
passes human love, Felix is unmoved. 
Polyeucte suffers martyrdom. His 
death opens Pauline's eyes to the truth. 
* I see, I understand, I believe ! ' she 
cries. Baptized in the blood of her 
tortured and dying husband, she be- 
comes a Christian, and calls upon her 
unnatural father to save his credit with 
the Emperor by subjecting herself to 
martyrdom. We can believe in the 
-H 126-*- 



CORNEILLE 

sincerity of Pauline's conversion ; it is 
not so easy to accept as logical from 
the dramatic point of view, or possible 
from the human, the sudden conversion 
of Felix. Threatened by Severe, who 
as the Emperor's favorite is not likely 
to utter idle threats, Felix avows him- 
self a Christian, and offers his life with 
that of Pauline as a sacrifice to the 
outraged Pagan deities. Severe for- 
gives, and with a largeness of soul 
characteristic of a noble Roman, pro- 
mises that persecution of the Christians 
shall cease. 

Brunetiere's striking remark, quoted 
before, about the relation that Corneille 
sustained to the precieuses was based 
upon study too broad and profound 
to require the corroboration of a mere 
anecdote. But as one of the objects 



,0 ^ f^ Ji0 ^ f% ^ 

CORNEILLE 

of this little series of studies is to show 
the variety and extent of the influences 
emanating from Hotel de Rambouillet, 
the anecdote is in place here. 

Before Polyeucte was put upon the 
stage, Comeille read the play at Hotel 
de Rambouillet. ' It was received 
with the applause which politeness and 
the great reputation of the author re- 
quired. But several days afterward 
Monsieur Voiture came to see Mon- 
sieur Corneille, in order to explain to 
him, with much delicate circumlocu- 
tion, that Polyeucte had not succeeded 
to the extent its author imagined ; that 
especially was it displeasing in its 
religiosity (Christianisme). Monsieur 
Corneille, alarmed, wished to withdraw 
the piece from the hands of the come- 
dians who had undertaken it; but 
-»- 128 -J- 



CORNEILLE 

finally left it with them upon the judg- 
ment of one of their number, who did 
not, however, play in it because he was 
a very poor actor.' Fontenelle, who 
tells the story, adds : ' Was it, then, for 
this comedian to judge better than all 
Hotel de Rambouillet ? ' 

Everybody knows that many an 
actor whose powers are not equal to 
the performance of a part in a great 
tragedy may be an excellent judge of 
the dramatic possibilities of that same 
tragedy. One would like to know to 
what extent Voiture was empowered 
to speak for ' all Hotel de Rambouil- 
let.' Moreover, since Hotel de Ram- 
bouillet had three years before defended 
Corneille against the Cardinal and his 
hosts, it had earned the right to an 
expression of opinion. And we must 



CORNEILLE 

always remember that the poet was as 
yet only a successful dramatist, who 
had not reached his thirty-fifth year, 
and whose work could not mean to 
his contemporaries what it means to 
us, consecrated as it now is by the dis- 
criminating praise of two and a half 
centuries. 



130H 



Jl ^ f^ 



\^/ORNEILLE'S genius reached 
its highest point of development in 
Polyeucte. In creating this passionate 
martyr, whose ardent spirit has re- 
minded one critic of Saint Paul, John 
Huss, Calvin, and Prince Kropotkin 
rolled into one, the poet had given the 
measure of his power. Scholars date 
the period of his decline from the 
Mort de Pompee^ produced in the win- 
ter of 1643-44. The word 'decline ' 
is used relatively, however. Pompie is 



CORNEILLE 

inferior to Horace^ no doubt, but it is 
a tragedy which only Corneille could 
have written. 

Two comedies, the Menteur and the 
Suite du Menteur^ followed Pompee. 
The first of these is the piece to which 
Moliere believed himself so greatly 
indebted. Moliere told Boileau that 
without the Menteur as a model he 
might still have written comedies of 
intrigue, but he could hardly have 
written the Misanthrope, On the 
occasion of the Menteur^ Balzac wrote 
Corneille : ' You will be Aristophanes 
when it pleases you to be, as you have 
already been Sophocles.' 

Between 1644 and 1647 Corneille 
produced Rodogune^ Theodore^ and 
Heraclius. The first of the three was 
received with ' universal applause/ 



CORNEILLE 

This is the play for which Comeille 
showed a strong liking, especially 
when people praised in his presence 
the merits of Cinna or the Cid. With 
characteristic open-mindedness, the 
poet confessed that this preference 
might be another illustration of that 
blind and unreasoning fondness which 
parents sometimes display for one child 
rather than another. Th eodore shocked 
the audience by the repulsive character 
of one of its situations. This feet is 
often cited as a naive illustratioQ of 
Coraeille's purity of heart. He was 
one of those rare poets who could 
touch pitch and not be defiled. He 
was amazed at the obstinacy of a pub- 
lic which insisted upon seeking and 
finding grossness where grossness was 
not intended. It may be cited among 



CORNEILLE 

the paradoxes of criticism that the deli- 
cate-minded Voltaire was offended by 
the plot oi Theodore, The world's debt 
to Voltaire is very great; but in all 
dramatic literature there is no scene 
comparable for mirthfulness with the 
spectacle of the author of the Pucelle 
reading the author oi Horace a lesson in 
decency ! In Heraclius Comeille grew 
more involved and complicated than 
ever. It is not easy to explain the suc- 
cess of this ' melodrama ' with the pub- 
lic in the light of Comeille's own con- 
fession that it needed to be heard more 
than once to be comprehended, and that 
he had himself been told by persons 
well qualified to judge, that witnessing 
a representation of Heraclius fatigued 
the mind more than serious study. 
After this frank acknowledgment, we 



CORNEILLE 

may reject as apocryphal that absurd 
anecdote which represents the poet as 
unable t6 follow the action of his own 
play when it was revived several years 
later. 

It is amusing to find how ancient 
is the cry that the theatre-going public 
wants novelties, and how invariably 
that passion for the unusual is referred 
to some national trait or peculiarity. 
* You know the humor of our French 
people,' says Corneille : ' they love 
novelty, and I venture non tarn meliora 
quam nova^ in the hope of being the 
better able to please them.' The refer- 
ence is to the second of two novelties 
which Corneille put upon the stage 
in 1650, namely, Andromede and 'Don 
Sane he d" Aragon. 

Andromede was a ' comedy with 



CORNEILLE 

music' It was spectacular, or as they 
used to say, 'comedie a machines/ 
The fashion was introduced from Italy. 
Torelli, a Venetian, who had the 
mechanical devices in hand, was so 
skilful that he was popularly called the 
' Grand Sorcerer.' ' He invented the 
method by which it was possible to 
change the whole scene in the twin- 
kling of an eye.' The music for this 
piece was composed by d'Assoucy. 
It was presented after long delay at 
the Theatre de Petit-Bourbon. The 
success was ' prodigious,' and Corneille 
was more than rewarded for the delay 
of three years to which the piece had 
been subjected. We are allowed to 
think of this remarkable man as not 
alone the father of French tragedy, 
but as having contributed in no small 



CORNEILLE 

degree to form the public taste for 
opera, and for a type of opera in which 
the poetry was not subordinated to the 
music and the stage setting. In his 
' examen ' of Andromede published 
ten years afterward, and also in the 
'Argument' prefixed to the play, 
Corneille gives full credit to the in- 
ventor of the mechanical devices. 
These, he says, are so ' necessary ' that 
to attempt to do without one of them 
would be to topple the whole edifice 
to the ground. He acknowledges 
that it is a piece for the eye rather 
than the ear, and he congratulates him- 
self that he has so skilful a coadjutor 
as Torelli, who on this occasion has 
surpassed all his former achievements. 
Don Sanche d'Aragon is a comedie 
heroique. The play was not entirely 



4 f^ / ^ti ^ , / ^ 

CORNEILLE 

pleasing to the authorities, for it seemed 
to touch too closely upon current 
events. There was no design in this. 
The case was not one where the dra- 
matic author had made his allusions to 
fit contemporary history, but it comes 
near to being one of those singular 
instances where the event seemed to 
have taken its cue from the play. 
DonSanche is represented as of humble 
birth, the son of a fisherman. He 
subdues monarchs, and plays havoc 
with the affairs of state. In the 
opinion of the ruling powers, the time 
was ill chosen for encouraging such 
ambitions, even in dramatic pictures. 
The war of the Fronde was disturbing 
France. In England a Cromwell had 
made himself military ruler, and the 
head of a king had fallen on the scaf- 



CORNEILLE 

fold. These were bad precedents. 
What an uncomfortable thing, if it 
should turn out that in writing Don 
Sanche Corneille had been uttering 
prophecy ! And so it comes that the 
Comte de Neufchateau, in his book 
called the Esprit du grand Corneille^ 
says : ' Cromwell killed Don Sanche.' 

Nicornede (1651), a comedie hero- 
ique like T)on Sanche^ was the last of 
the poet's great flights. He wrote 
nine or ten more pieces, but all inferior 
to this splendid play. He was fully 
conscious of the merit of the work, 
and might *have admitted as wholly 
deserved the tribute of the admirer 
who declared that Nicornede was as 
beautiful as the Cid. 

Pertharite (1652) failed completely, 
and in the opinion of its author, igno- 



CORNEILLE 

miniously. The play had but two 
performances. So disappointed was 
the poet that he could not bear any 
allusion to the unhappy circumstance. 
He easily persuaded himself that he 
was too old — he lacked four years 
of being fifty — to please the public 
longer. In a preface to an early 
printed edition of the play, he spoke 
of his failure in terms which do not 
attempt to conceal his disappoint- 
ment. ' It is better,' he says, ' that I 
should take my farewell of the theatre 
at my own instance than wait to be 
dismissed. The facts are evident ; after 
twenty years of work, I begin to real- 
ize that I am too old to be in fashion. 
This satisfaction I have, that both in 
respect of art and of morals I leave 
the French stage in a better condition 



CORNEILLE 

than I found it. The great geniuses 
of my time have contributed much to 
the theatre, but I flatter myself that my 
efforts have not been to its injury. . . . 
Grant me the privilege of adding this 
unhappy poem to the one and twenty 
which have preceded it with so much 
success. This will be the last impor- 
tunity of similar nature which I shall 
make you ! ' 

The touch of bitterness is unmis- 
takable. Corneille pretty nearly kept 
his word, and had it not been for 
the expostulations of Fouquet, might 
never again have tempted public 
favor. As it was, his retirement lasted 
seven years. Fouquet, who was in 
the height of his glory at the beginning 
of the second half of the century, set 
himself to the task of bringing the 



CORNEILLE 

author of the Cid back to the stage. 
The Surintendant was liberal toward 
men of letters. Corneille said of him 
that he was minister of belles-lettres as 
well as minister of finance. Fouquet 
proposed three subjects. Comeille 
elected to write a play on GEdipus. It 
was presented at Hotel de Bourgogne 
in January, 1659. ^^ ^^^ successful, 
perhaps for the reason assigned by a 
modem critic, who sees in CEdipe not 
a tragedy but a melodrama. The 
Court was attracted. The Gazette 
of February 15 announced that their 
Majesties, with a great number of per- 
sons of quahty , went to Hotel de Bour- 
gogne 'to witness a performance of 
the CEdipe of Sieur de Comeille, the 
latest work of this celebrated author/ 
It is exactly at this point that the 
-»■ 142-*- 



CORNEILLE 

biographers of Corneille celebrate the 
golden days of the poet's reputation. 
The militant period of his life was 
past. His fame had been increased 
rather than diminished by his seven 
years of retirement. He had had 
time to grow into the position of a 
classic. Many of his bitterest ene- 
mies were dead, others had been 
whipped into line by a public which 
does not in the long run judge amiss. 
Moreover, Corneille, being fifty-three 
years of age, was in some sort a vet- 
eran. Younger men rallied about 
him and did honor to his great gifts 
as they had not before. He was stim- 
ulated to work by these conditions. 

In 1661 he produced the Conquete 
de la Toison d'or^ which, like Andro- 
mede^ was a tragedy ' a machines,' and 



CORNEILLE 

with music. It was so successful that 
it was played the next winter. Then 
followed SertoriuSy presented in Feb- 
ruary, 1662, 'by the comedians of the 
Marais.' This was the piece which 
so impressed Turenne, and led him to 
ask in astonishment : ' Where did Cor- 
neille learn the art of war ? ' In 1663 
Sophonisbe was produced, to the great 
annoyance of two petulant critics, 
de Vise and the Abbe d'Aubignac. 
Another irritating pamphlet war was 
declared. D'Aubignac stirred up a 
hornet's nest of small poets to attack 
Corneille. De Vise, ashamed of his 
companionship, withdrew, and began 
to defend the great dramatist. 

Sophonisbe was followed by Othon 
in 1664, by Agesilas in 1666, and by 
Attila in 1 667. The first of the three 



CORSE ILLE 

was receiTed with little cordiality, and 
Aglsilas was consideicd unwortlij die 
audior of (E£pe and Strt^rius^ as 
tbey in turn had been dioiig^ un- 
wortfaj the author of the Gd and 
Horace, Boikan's epigram on Agia^ 
las is cficTL quoted : — 

Attila was not iD-ticatcd at die hands 
of the poUic; and had twenty peiibrm- 
anccs at the Falais-Royal fay Mcdieie's 
comedians. That Attils should ha^e 
been prodnced by Mcrfieie lather 
dian by the comecfians of Hotel de 
Bouigqgne was dne to Comeille^ 
natural irritatioQ at the piefeience 
shown for the works of his yom^ 
TiTal, Radne. 

Tite ct Beremc^ was r^^^^^i^^y^ by 



CORNEILLE 

Moliere's troupe in 1670. This 
drama and the brilliant Bourgeois gen- 
tilhomme were played alternately, each 
piece having about twenty perform- 
ances. Corneille did not escape the 
charge of obscurity; what thoughtful 
poet does ? In this play of T^ite et 
Berenice were lines which baffled his 
most devoted admirers. Boileau used 
to say ' that there were two sorts of 
galimatias^ simple and double. Sim- 
ple galimatias was where the author 
understood what he wanted to say, 
but other people understood nothing. 
Double galimatias was where neither 
the author nor the readers understood 
anything.' He illustrated the saying 
' with certain lines from Tite et Bere- 
nice! 

Baron, the famous actor who cre- 

-^ I46^~ 



CORNEILLE 

ated the role of Domitian, was sadly 
troubled by these lines. The more 
he studied them, the less he compre- 
hended them. He appealed to Moli- 
ere, with whom he was living at that 
time, but Moliere was not able to un- 
derstand them either. He was able, 
however, to give sound advice. Said 
Moliere : ' Wait ; Monsieur Corneille 
will be here to supper, and you shall 
ask him to explain them.' When 
Corneille arrived, young Baron em- 
braced him as was his custom, for he 
loved him ; and then he begged the 
old poet to explain the four verses. 
Corneille, after having examined the 
lines for some time, said : 'I do not 
understand them very well myself 
now, but do you always speak them; 



CORNEILLE 

they who do not understand them 
will admire them.' 

The anecdote is good enough to 
be apocryphal. It is to be found in 
Recreations litteraires^ by Cizeron-Ri- 
val, and is copied into most of the 
biographies of Comeille. 

Towards the close of 1670, Cor- 
neille wrote in collaboration with Mo- 
liere and Quinault a spectacular piece 
for Carnival. It was Moliere's idea 
to take the old story of Psyche for the 
subject. The music was composed by 
Lully, and the opera was presented at 
the Theatre des Tuileries in January, 
1671. They who are best qualified 
to judge say that there are few verses 
more graceful, more highly endowed 
with the indescribable charm of true 
lyric poetry, than these verses which 



CORNEILLE 

Corneille contributed to the * tragedie- 
ballet' o{ Psyche. 

His last works were Pulcherie and 
Surena. In the midst of their defects 
were passages which brought to mind 
the ' firm and imposing grandeur ' of 
the greater plays. Corneille's mis- 
takes were always the ' mistakes of a 
giant.' Even in this last fruit from 
an old tree were high qualities which 
belonged only to him. 



.149. 




VI 



'UT little is known of Cor- 
neille's private life. He was neither 
eccentric in manner nor brilliant in 
conversation, and therefore people had 
little to say about him. For a man 
whose entire career had to do with the 
stage, he left but a slender harvest of 
anecdote. He lived until October, 
1684. His brother Thomas lived 
until 1709, and his nephew Fonte- 
nelle did not die until 1 757. But for 
all that he seems to come within our 



CORNEILLE 

reach, and to be tangible in a sense in 
which Shakespeare is not, Corneille is 
shadowy and indefinite. 

Yet there was nothing mysterious 
about him. He was a plain man, 
with simple tastes and homely inter- 
ests. Historians tell us with an air of 
wonder that he was a dutiful son, a 
good husband, a good father, and a de- 
voted member of the church. He was 
in fact warden of his parish for years, 
and was a singularly devout man. In 
every particular he was the opposite 
of the Bohemian playwright who is a 
stock figure in literary annals. What 
a contrast he offers to his old enemy 
Bois-Robert, whose history in the most 
recent and authoritative of works be- 
gins with this sentence : ' Bois-Robert 
entirely lacked the moral sense.' 
^ 152-1- 



CORNEILLE 

No, Comeille was not picturesque. 
He was strong, simple-hearted, he was 
a genius, but he was not picturesque. 
For this reason his contemporaries 
never got over their surprise as they 
compared the man and the work. 
They marvelled, tried to explain it to 
themselves, and then settled back in 
the belief that there was a psycholo- 
gical trick about it. Moliere's story 
accounting for the operation of Cor- 
neille's mind may not be authentic, 
but it illustrates the case quite as well. 
Moliere said that Corneille had a lit- 
tle goblin which hovered about him ; 
and when the goblin saw his master 
cleaning his nails and getting ready 
to write, he would go up to him and 
whisper in his ear the things to say. 
Then Corneille would put them down. 



CORNEILLE 

Afterward the goblin would go away 
a little distance and say to himself, 
' Now let us see how he will do 
alone.' And then Corneille would 
write all those passages in his works 
which are so difficult to read. He 
would write until the goblin took 
pity on him and dictated once more. 
* It was not the Corneille we know 
who wrote all the beautiful passages 
in his plays,' said Moliere, ' it was the 
goblin.' 

In his old age he became poor. 
Poets used to live in those days either 
by dedications; or * little verses,' by 
which we may understand poems of 
occasion; or by * domesticity,' which 
means that they took up residence at 
the house of some powerful lord, ate 
his bread, drank his wine, and sang 



4f ^ f^ J ^ » ^ 

CORNEILLE 

his praises. It is not possible to 
imagine Corneille in such a situation ; 
and since he had no great skill in 
'little verses,' and could not write a 
dedication ' a la Montauron ' every 
week, his case was a hard one. Once, 
when some admirer congratulated 
him on the success of his work, he 
answered : ' I am satiated with glory 
and famished for money.' There is 
a letter from a bourgeois of Rouen 
which describes Corneille sitting on a 
bench in a cobbler's shop while he 
has a shoe mended, and afterwards giv- 
ing the shoemaker the three pieces of 
money remaining in his pocket. *I 
have wept,' says the writer of the let- 
ter, ' to see so great a genius reduced 
to this excess of misery.' 

Lemaitre observes that, strictly 



CORNEILLE 

speaking, the only point proven by 
this incident is that Corneille was 
a man of entirely simple manners. 
There is no rigid demonstration of 
poverty in the mere fact of the poet's 
going to the shop and waiting until 
the shoe was mended. The letter, 
however, was written by one who was 
sufficiently well acquainted with Cor- 
neille's affairs to see in this otherwise 
natural though unceremonious pro- 
ceeding a fresh illustration of the nar- 
rowness of the poet's circumstances. 

Corneille was not only simple of 
manner, but he was something more. 
They bring against him the unkind- 
est charge that a Parisian knows how 
to make : ' Corneille remained always 
a provincial.' He never acquired ur- 
banity of manner. He was brusque 
^156+- 



CORNEILLE 

and even rude at times. According 
to Lemaitre, this rudeness was not con- 
fined to his manner, it used to come 
out in his verse occasionally. The 
poet is a refreshing figure on this ac- 
count. The reader becomes wearied 
of the supple courtiers and the smil- 
ing, insinuating abbes whom he meets 
so ofiien in a study of this period. The 
Due de Montausier and Pierre Cor- 
neille are as invigorating as a breath 
of cool air on a hot day. 

Corneille married shortly afi:er the 
triumph of Cinna, His wife was 
Marie de Lamperiere, a daughter of 
Matthieu de Lamperiere, ' lieutenant 
particulier civil et criminel du Bailly 
de Gisors, au siege d'Andely.' There 
is a tradition that Richelieu used his 
influence to help Corneille win the 
-4-157^^ 



CORXEILLE 

lady of his choice. The father was 
opposed to the match, but yielded 
readily at the Cardinal's suggestion. 
The story was first told by Fonte- 
nelle. Whoever wishes to read the 
refutation of this and other pictur- 
esque traditions of the poet's career 
will do well to consult Bouquet's his- 
torical and critical study, entitled 
Points obscurs et nouveaux de la vie de 
Pierre Comeille. The family w^ith 
which the poet allied himself held a 
dignified position in the world and 
was ^rly well to do. Six children 
were bom of this marriage, of whom 
the eldest, Marie, is notable because 
by her second marriage she became 
the ancestress of Charlotte Corday. 

Marie de Lamperiere had a younger 
sister, Marguerite, who married 



CORNEILLE 

Thomas Corneille. Nothing reflects 
greater credit on the ' grand ' ComeiLle 
than his attitude towards his brother 
Thomas. He loved him tenderly, 
gave him a fether's care and guidance 
after their Other's death, helped him 
in his dramatic beginnings, and was 
at all times and in all circumstances 
his best and most unselfish friend. 
Is this why some of the biographers 
exclaim ' vie bourgeoise,' and declare 
that Corneille was a poet only in his 
works? What would they have? 
Apparently, in the minds of not a few 
critics, marital fidelity and brotherly 
devotion are not only vulgar, but quite 
incompatible with poetry. 

Comeille's introduction to the bril- 
liant societv^ of Hotel de Rambouillet 
took place about the time of his mar- 



CORNEILLE 

riage. He was welcomed there as the 
most gifted and successful dramatic 
poet of the day. He read his plays 
before the Marquise and her guests, 
and contributed three poems to the 
Guirlande de Julie. To the Marquise 
de Rambouillet, who cherished sincer- 
ity and all the other qualities which 
we call ' sterling,' the poet's presence 
must have been grateful. To ordinary 
men and women of fashion he was 
an enigma. He had few social gifts, 
and perhaps despised ' the graces/ 
His reading of his own works was 
like most authors' readings, more 
curious than agreeable. According 
to Vigneul-Marville, the poet never 
spoke his own language very cor- 
rectly, though this may have been from 
pure negligence. They talked of his 
^ i6o-i- 



CORNEILLE 

' Norman patois/ His nephew, Fonte- 
nelle, says that the poet read his verses 
with force but without grace. Accord- 
ing to the report of persons less favor- 
ably prejudiced, Comeille was barely 
intelligible when he read aloud. 

Though not a handsome man, Cor- 
neille had * a very agreeable counte- 
nance.' His eyes were full of fire, his 
nose large, his mouth finely shaped. 
He was of medium height, neither fat 
nor thin, though inclining towards a 
full habit, and quite negligent of dress. 
He might have been taken for a 
'merchant of Rouen' rather than a 
portrayer of the life and thought of 
heroes. 

He became a candidate for the 
Academy first in 1644, and again in 
1646. The company rejected him 



CORNEILLE 

the first time in favor of de Salomon, 
and the second time in favor of Du 
Ryer. Too often these facts are told 
in a way to reflect upon the Academy. 
It is but fair to say that the policy of 
this body was to choose, of two eligi- 
ble candidates, the one who made his 
home in Paris. There were exceptions 
to this rule, Balzac being the most 
conspicuous. 

After Maynard's death, Corneille 
again offered himself He told the 
members that he had now arranged 
his affairs at Rouen so as to be able to 
pass a part of each year at the capital. 
At the time of his reception into the 
company (January 22, 1647), ^^ P^^ 
nounced a discourse which his ardent 
admirer, Taschereau, has declared to 
be one of the worst of compositions, 
-+162-*- 



CORNEILLE 

hardly redeeming its faults by its 
brevity. 

In criticising the historians for omit- 
ting to speak of that rule against non- 
resident membership of the Academy 
as applied to the case of Comeille, we 
are not absolving that body from the 
charge of narrowness. It was not al- 
together liberal in its attitude toward 
the great dramatic poet. But its nar- 
rowness can be explained, if not de- 
fended. The Academy was after all 
a club. It did not call itself one ; but 
the traditions of the Golden Age re- 
mained, and good fellowship was a 
phrase which still had a meaning. It 
was impossible that men should not 
be affected by these considerations in 
the choice of new members. What- 
ever social virtues Corneille had were 



CORNEILLE 

not pronounced. Though an eminent 
poet, he was not a man whose society 
was sought by other men because of 
his ' clubable ' qualities. 

He was probably a negligent Aca- 
demician. One cannot easily imagine 
him as regular in attendance and eager 
over the minutiae of Academic busi- 
ness. He assisted at the public func- 
tions, but took no prominent part in 
the routine work. Marty-Laveaux 
says that his colleagues were proud to 
have him among them, and were not 
disposed to be exacting in their de- 
mands. No finer tribute to Comeille's 
modesty of demeanor could be paid 
than was paid by Racine, who said 
that one might look in vain for any 
evidence that Corneille wished to take 
advantage of his great renown. ' He 
-i- 164-*- 



CORNEILLE 

came as a docile pupil, seeking to be 
instructed in our meetings, and leav- 
ing his laurels at the door of the 
Academy.' 

Comeille was a very proud man, 
but his pride often took an unusual 
form. In his age men were boastful 
of their ancestry, and apparently there 
were no ancestors who were not noble. 
Occasionally we find an exception 
like Voiture, who was handicapped by 
the fact that everybody knew about 
his father, the wholesale wine-mer- 
chant of Amiens ; yet Voiture had a 
sturdiness of nature quite incompati- 
ble with that thin vanity which is flat- 
tered by the consciousness of being 
technically ' noble.' The majority of 
men were only content with the par- 
ticle de. They yearned for it, and 
-t- 165 +- 



CORNEILLE 

would do anything to obtain it. They 
were wiUing to toil, flatter, cringe, lie. 
So common was the particle, and so 
doubtful of origin in many cases, that 
it ought to have been debased. But 
it was not. No extravagance of use 
could dim its splendor. 

Corneille had no foolish affectation 
of this sort To the end of his days 
he remained Pierre Corneille. So far 
as we know, he never used, or encour- 
aged others to use, any title in con- 
nection with his name. In a legal 
document he is spoken of as Sieur de 
Damville. This fact disturbed Tasche- 
reau, who tried to explain it on the 
ground of failing mental powers. 
The document in question related to 
the sale of Corneille's house in Rouen, 
and was drawn up the year before the 
^166-^ 



CORNEILLE 

poet's death. In the second edition 
of his Histoire de la vie et des ouvrages 
de P. Corneille^ Taschereau announced 
with triumphant satisfaction that he 
was wrong in supposing that the poet 
had assumed the title himself It was 
applied to him by his relative, Le 
Bouyer de Fontenelle, who had charge 
of the sale. 

Still less was Comeille guilty of 
that vulgar and disgusting form of 
vanity which boasts the humbleness 
of its origin and exalts its present con- 
dition at the expense of poor but 
worthy parents. He was simple, nat- 
ural, unaffected. Had he continued 
financially prosperous, he might have 
been more genial. Men are wonder- 
fully placid and easy-going under the 
discipline of wealth. 

^ 167-1- 



CORNEILLE 

His mental vigor declined percep- 
tibly as he advanced in years. He 
showed the effect of a long life of in- 
tense application. He became more 
straitened in circumstances. Lanson 
says, recounting the sources of his in- 
come, that Corneille was at no time 
in misery. One could the more read- 
ily believe this, were it not that the 
world always contains people able at 
the same instant to boast their houses 
and lands and to bewail their lack of 
money. Lemaitre likens Corneille, 
in all that concerns money, to the el- 
der Dumas and to Honore de Balzac. 
When such men have ready money, 
they are incapable of realizing the 
state of mind consequent upon being 
moneyless. Without necessarily be- 



CORNEILLE 

ing spendthrifts, they spend as if the 
source were inexhaustible. 

There was a tradition that during 
the poefs last illness, Boileau, know- 
ing Comeille to be in great distress and 
perhaps at the point of death, went 
to the king and generously offered to 
sacrifice his own pension, if by so 
doing Comeille might be reestablished 
in his. ' The king immediately sent 
two hundred louis.' 

This tradition enjoyed an uninter- 
rupted existence up to the year 1888. 
It was then reinterpreted, by Bou- 
quet, in the interest of that strict 
historical verity which we all admire, 
and are reluctant to receive because 
less piquant than tradition. The king 
did indeed send Comeille ' money to 
die with,' but not at the instance of 
-♦• 169-1- 



CORNEILLE 

Boileau. Corneille died some time 
during the night of September 30 
and October 1, 1684. 

He was buried in the church of 
Saint-Roch, 'without mausoleum or 
epitaph' to indicate to the stranger 
the place of his interment. One hun- 
dred and thirty-seven years elapsed 
before any memorial was raised to his 
honor. In 1821 the Due d'Orleans, 
afterward Louis-Philippe, placed a 
commemorative tablet of marble on 
one of the pillars in the church. On 
this tablet was sculptured a medallion 
of the poet together with an inscrip- 
tion which says : ' Pierre Corneille, 
ne a Rouen le 6 Juin 1606, mort a 
Paris, rue d'Argenteuil, le i^ Octobre 
1684, ^^^ inhume dans cette egUse.' 

His brother Thomas, younger than 

-H 170-*- 



CORNEILLE 

he by nineteen years, succeeded to 
his arm-chair in the Academy. His 
widow survived him ten years. The 
fortunes of his children and grand- 
children were various, and neither 
more nor less happy than the average 
of human fortunes. In 1728 the fam- 
ily of Corneille was supposed to be 
extinct in the line of direct descent 
from the poet. Marie Corneille, who 
derived from a collateral branch, re- 
ceived substantial assistance from Vol- 
taire, and from all whom he could 
interest in her welfare, as the only liv- 
ing representative of the great name. 
Voltaire had the discomfort of being 
roundly abused for not exerting him- 
self afresh in behalf of another Cor- 
neille, who announced himself at Fer- 
ney one day as a direct descendant of 



CORNEILLE 

the author of the Cid. It was Claude- 
Etienne, son of Pierre-Alexis Cor- 
neille, who in childhood had been 
abandoned by his father and whom 
the world had lost track of He was 
now thirty-five years of age, had been 
a soldier and an adventurer, and was 
for the moment a beggar. Voltaire 
took a very philosophical view of 
his case. He apparently decided that 
as Claude-Etienne was a man in the 
prime of life, and by no means igno- 
rant of the ways of the world, he was 
quite able to shift: for himself 

Marie, eldest child of the great 
Corneille, was twice married. Her 
second husband was Jacques-Adrien 
de Farcy. Of their two children, 
Fran9ois de Farcy married Adrien de 
Corday. Of this marriage was bom 



CORNEILLE 

Jacques- Adrien de Corday, who es- 
poused Mademoiselle de Belleau de 
La Motte, and begat sons and daugh- 
ters to the number of eight. The 
most notable of the sons was Jacques- 
Fran9ois, a lieutenant in the regiment 
of La Fere, whose daughter, Marie- 
Anne Charlotte de Corday, killed Ma- 
rat, and a few days later died by the 
guillotine. This girl of twenty-five 
played a role so impassioned and he- 
roic that one may look in vain for its 
counterpart in the tragedies of her 
great ancestor. 



173 



VII 

\w/ORNEILLE'S services to dra- 
matic literature were so great and so 
varied that it is not easy to compre- 
hend them. One may glibly repeat 
Faguet's statement that ' Comeille 
carried to a degree of perfection hith- 
erto unknown all the dramatic forms, 
tragedy, comedy, tragi-comedy, melo- 
drama, and spectacular piece,' but the 
full significance of this statement is 
only to be grasped by much reading 
and not a little reflection. 



CORNEILLE 

Consider, for example, how great a 
service that poet renders the literature 
of his native land who writes plays 
which are not only perfectly fitted to 
the needs of dramatic representation, 
but which may also be read with 
the highest degree of pleasure. Cor- 
neille's best plays are absolutely 
dramatic and unqualifiedly literary. 
They have that rare distinction by 
virtue of which a multitude of beau- 
ties not to be perceived in the reading 
are brought into prominence when 
the play is played ; and by virtue of 
which, on the other hand, beauties of 
thought and diction too subtle for the 
atmosphere of the play-house are dis- 
closed in the quiet of the study. The 
rank and file of dramatic authors are 
blind to the significance of this lesson 
-»• 176-*- 



CORNEILLE 

taught by the masters of their craft. 
Knowing, as they must, that there is 
small chance of life for a play which 
is not strongly tinctured with the lit- 
erary quality, they still court oblivion 
for the sake of an immediate and a 
brief popularity. Some of these su- 
perficial pieces have a longer career 
than others. The genius of a bril- 
liant actor gives them a semblance of 
life ; but it is only a semblance, and 
when the actor dies, the play dies too. 
It can hardly be accounted among 
the least of Corneille's services to dra- 
matic literature that he purified the 
stage. Where licentiousness had 
reigned for years, cleanliness came to 
take its place. In bringing about this 
reform, the poet had no motive which 
was not praiseworthy. There is a 
^177-^ 



4^ ^ '/5 ^<j^= 



CORNEILLE 



kind of virtue which is commercial ; 
it would be vicious, were it not that 
morality pays a higher rate of inter- 
est. Corneille was haughtily above 
the influence of these low and care- 
less motives. His was one of those 
large natures which in its splendid 
health of mind and body despises 
filth of any kind. 

In the third place he demonstrated 
that the creative artist may be splen- 
didly self-conscious. He was a critic 
of adroit and penetrating powers, no 
less in command of the ' theoric ' than 
of the ' art and practic part ' of dra- 
matic writing. He rendered a service 
to the little understood art of dra- 
matic criticism by his three Discourse 
and by those prefaces called Examens 
which are to be found in most editions 



CORNEILLE 

of his plays dating from the year 1660. 
The edition of 1660 was in three vol- 
umes. Each volume contained two 
essays, one on the general theory of 
dramatic composition, and one on the 
several plays contained in that partic- 
ular volume. The essays on the gen- 
eral theory of the drama bear the fol- 
lowing titles : Discours de Vutilite et 
des parties du Poeme dramatiquey Dis- 
cours de la Tragedie^ and Discours des 
trois Unites d* action de jour et de lieu. 
In the Examens Corneille justifies, ex- 
plains, or condemns his manner of 
handling the materials of the individ- 
ual plays. Critics have been known 
to lament the pains which the great 
poet took in accounting to himself 
and his public in the small matters 
of dramatic casuistry. Would that 



CORNEILLE 

Shakespeare had cared enough for 
his own work to do the same I But 
there is a school of criticism which 
prefers that a poet should never ex- 
plain, and which despises the bard 
who is intelligible. 

Comeille, the master of tragedy, 
also takes high rank among the lyric 
poets of France. He made a poetic 
version of the Imitation of Jesus 
Christ, He translated from the Latin 
the Office de la Vierge^ the Hymnes du 
breviaire romain^ the Sept Psaumes peni- 
tentiaux^ and many other pieces be- 
sides. We need not lay too much 
stress on Lemaitre's malicious sugges- 
tion that the seasons of exalted piety 
during which these devotional poems 
were composed always followed hard 
upon personal disaster. It is plea- 
-»-i8o^ 



CORNEILLE 

santer to read this critic's tribute to 
the fecundity of Corneille's poetic 
vein, and to be reminded that this 
remarkable man ' left from twenty 
to twenty-five thousand verses, trans- 
lated either from liturgical Latin or 
the Latin of the Imitation ; ' in other 
words, that Corneille wrote ' twice as 
many lyric verses as Lamartine and 
three or four times as many as Alfred 
de Vigny/ Verily, there were giants 
in the Seventeenth Century I 

He is a unique and altogether at- 
tractive figure. I cannot understand 
that attitude which denies to Cor- 
neille's history the quality of interest- 
ingness. One critic says that he had 
no ' life,' another that he had a career 
which was all of a piece, dull, with- 
out event. The world has curious 
-H i8n- 



CORNEILLE 

ideas of what constitutes ' life.' If 
a man haunts the wine-shops, is a 
roysterer and something of a rake, if 
he writes his poetry between fits of 
intoxication and dies in debt, his 
biographer will talk gravely about 
the profundity of his experience. But 
if he is respectable, goes to church, 
has a family and supports his family, 
dresses for dinner, and has some con- 
sideration for society and the state, 
the advocates of a mild bohemianism 
will talk about the narrowness and 
stupidity of his career, and will tell 
you how little such a poet knows of 
the great movements and forces of 
our time. There is a deal of rubbish 
in print exalting the irregular literary 
lives at the expense of the regular. 
We shall expect one of these days to 



CORNEILLE 

hear a lament that Shakespeare did 
not lead a broader existence. Why, 
this man Shakespeare was actually 
respectable. He made money and 
kept it. He owned city property 
and an estate in the country. He 
attended to his bills, and saw to it 
that money due him was paid ; if it 
was not paid, he sued for it. To 
Shakespeare there was no disgrace in 
being a gentleman. He was broad- 
minded, sweet-tempered, affable, dis- 
tinguished for his common sense, 
* while all do speak of his upright- 
eousness of dealing.' He makes 
quite as good a showing as if he had 
been stabbed in a tavern brawl like 
his friend Marlowe, and left but a 
splendid promise and an unhappy 
memory. 



CORNEILLE 

Corneille's career was not dull. 
His cup of life was filled to the brim 
with event. He knew the common- 
place and the exceptional phases of 
existence. If in the outward aspects 
of his history there was much that 
might be called work-a-day, it was 
the better for him. In those stretches 
of time when there was little outward 
disturbance, the poetic life was strong, 
full, and rich. How is it possible 
to apply the word ' commonplace ' to 
the man in whose brain were forming 
the heroic figures of the Cid or of 
Horace ? 

He knew the city and the pro- 
vince, the drawing-room and the jus- 
tice's court, the splendors of Hotel de 
Rambouillet and the squabbles and 
petty jealousies of that mimic world 



CORNEILLE 

the theatre. He knew for a moment 
Richelieu, and perhaps understood 
him rather better than Bois-Robert, 
whose only will was to do the Cardi- 
nal's will. He knew the extremes of 
popularity and neglect. He had stood 
on the highest pinnacle of public fa- 
vor, had seen the court and the city 
frenzied with admiration over his 
achievements, and on the other hand 
he had tasted the bitterness of defeat 
and neglect. He had lived through 
that trying period in the life of a man 
of genius when he understands that 
the battle is not to the experienced 
and the wise, but to the young and 
the buoyant. He cannot be said to 
have accepted his misfortunes philo- 
sophically ; I am not trying to show 
that Corneille was a ' philosopher,' 
^185 H- 



CORNEILLE 

but that he was a man who lived, 
suffered, passed through the myriad 
experiences of his fellow man, and 
was the richer and better for the very 
simplicity of those experiences. 

There was discovered in the city of 
Rouen, many years ago, an old book 
of parish accounts. Some thirty 
pages of this book are in Corneille's 
own hand. The poet's house in Rue 
de la Pie belonged to the parish of 
Saint-Sauveur. The church has long 
since completely disappeared, but the 
enormous folios which contained the 
parish accounts were preserved, and 
in 1840 a scholar, Deville, discovered 
' to his surprise and joy ' that Cor- 
neille had kept the books for a year 
and made the entries of receipts and 
expenditure, with his own hand. Cor- 
^186 ^^ 



CORNEILLE 

neille was 'treasurer in charge ' of the 
parish from Easter, 1651, to the cor- 
responding date 1652. There was 
satisfaction over this discovery for 
the reason that examples of the poet's 
handwriting are 'excessively rare/ 
Deville reminded that part of the 
pubUc which shared his interest that 
these entries must have been made 
about the time when Comeille was 
writing his 'admirable tragedy of 
Nicomede' The coincidence is suf- 
ficiently striking in itself; we are not 
required to follow the enthusiastic 
discoverer to the point of believing 
that Corneille may have written Nico- 
mede and kept the parish accounts 
' with the same pen.' 

It is a pleasure to know these 
homely details of a great poet's life. 



CORNEILLE 

Genius is never more attractive than 
when it is busied and patiently busied 
with the commoner affairs of hfe. 
Great men are so imposing and so in- 
scrutable, they make such a demand 
upon one's powers of admiration, that 
it is a relief to get some testimony 
as to their human and familiar quali- 
ties. Roederer used to wish that it 
might have been his privilege to see 
Madame de Sevigne sitting with her 
friends, embroidering or sewing. A 
glimpse of the great epistolary artist as 
she appeared in hours of relaxation, 
when she employed her time as less 
gifted women employed theirs, would 
be illuminating, the distinguished 
critic thought. Who would not re- 
joice in the discovery of some frag- 
ment of those accounts which Geof- 



CORNEILLE 

frey Chaucer used to keep when he 
collected revenues on skins and tanned 
hides for the port of London ? The 
finding of some hitherto unknown 
poem would hardly bring us so near 
to the author of the Canterbury Tales 
as memorabilia of this homely char- 
acter. 

The only relation to genius which 
the majority of us sustain consists in 
the ability to appreciate it more or 
less imperfectly. Perhaps for this rea- 
son alone we should rejoice in every 
detail, no matter how commonplace, 
which has the effect of narrowing in 
some little degree that gulf which di- 
vides the man of genius from the vast 
multitude of human beings. 

The unconscious element in Cor- 
neille's work has been absurdly exag- 
^189+- 



CORNEILLE 

gerated. The poet lived among the 
mountain heights, and when he came 
do\^Ti into the valley, he seemed odd 
and childish to the dwellers in the val- 
ley. They said foolish things about 
him, as, for example, that he was able 
to estimate the value of a play only 
by the sum he received for it This 
is to push the ' goblin ' theory of po- 
etic composition to its most grotesque 
point. 

Surely it is not unreasonable to be- 
lieve, even in respect to so intangible 
a thing as poetr}% that they who have 
accomplished great ends know best 
the means to those ends. Comeille 
had a marvellous gift for poetry. He 
was spontaneous and prolific. But 
he was also a consummate literary ar- 
tist He had leamed the great les- 



CORNEILLE 

son that raw, untutored genius will 
not carry a man to the highest pin- 
nacle of Hterary fame. There must 
be added patient, unremitting, finely 
directed toil. 



191 



BIBLIOGRAPHICAL 
NOTE 



± HE following list of books is, perhaps, 
sufficiently extended to meet the needs of 
the amateur of literature. The specialist 
will not require to be told how indispen- 
sable is the Bibliographie Cornelienne^ by 
Emile Picot, Paris, 1876. 

The materials relating to Corneille are 
divided into three groups : — 

First : Brief critical and biographical 
notices. After consulting the admirable 
manuals by Lanson, Lintilhac, Brunetiere, 
and Faguet, the student may to his advan- 



BIBLIOGRAPHICAL NOTE 

tage read the passages on Corneille in the 
following general histories of French liter- 
ature. 

1. Nisard (D.), Histoire de la Littera- 
ture fran^aise, Paris, Firmin-Didot. 17® 
edition. Vol. II., pp. 87-135. 

2. Godefroy (Frederic), Histoire de la 
Litter atur e fran^aise : XVII siecle, Poetes. 
Paris, Gaume et C% 1897, ^® edition ; pp. 
109-144 are devoted to Corneille. 

3. Doumic (Rene), Histoire de la Lit- 
terature fran^aise, Paris, Delaplane. 13® 
edition, pp. 245-254. 

4. Albert (Paul), La Litterature fran- 
faise au dix-septieme siecle. Paris, Hachette, 
1892. 8® edition, pp. 72-94. 

5. Dowden (Edward), A History of 
French Literature. New York, Appleton, 
1897, ^^ ^^^ series entitled ' Literatures of 
the World,' pp. 163-170. 

6. Geruzez (Eugene), Histoire de la 

-»• 194 •»- 



BIBLIOGRAPHICAL NOTE 

Litterature franfaise, Paris, Didier, 1869. 
8® edition. Vol. II., pp. 72-98. 

Second : Biographies and Critical Es- 
says. 

1. Bouquet (F.), Points obscurs et nou- 
veaux de la Vie de Pierre Corneille, Paris, 
Hachette, 1888. 

2. Taschereau (J.), Histoire de la vie 
et des ouvrages de Pierre Corneille^ ' Biblio- 
theque elzevirienne.' Paris, Jannet, 1855. 

3. Guizot (Francois), Corneille et son 
temps, Paris, 1852. 

4. Lanson (Gustave), Corneille^ in the 
series of ' Grands Ecrivains fran^ais.' 
Paris, Hachette, 1898. 

5. Faguet (Emile), Dix-septieme Siecle, 
' Corneille.' Paris, Societe fran^aise d'im- 
primerie, 1898 ; pp. 3-29. Consult, also, 
Faguet's Corneille^ in the * Collection des 
Classiques populaires.' Paris, H. Lecene 
et H. Oudin, 1888. 

^195^ 



BIBLIOGRAPHICAL NOTE 

6. Breitinger (H.), Les Unites d'Aris- 
tote avant le Cid de Corneille, Geneve et 
Bale, Georg et C% 1895. 

7. Brunetiere (F.), Les J^poques du the- 
atre fran^ais, Paris, Hachette, 1892. 

8. Petit de Julleville (L.), Histotre de 
la Langue et de la Litterature fran^aise, 
Paris, Colin, 1897. Vol. IV., chapter 5. 
The chapter on Corneille, comprising 
about eighty pages, is by Jules Lemaitre. 
One should also read the chapter on the 
' theatre au XVII siecle avant Corneille,' 
by E. Rigal, and the chapter on the ' the- 
atre au Temps de Corneille,' by Gustave 
Regnier. At the close of each chapter 
will be found a bibliography. 

9. Marty-Laveaux (Ch.), Notice bio- 
graphique sur Pierre Corneille^ in Vol. I. of 
' CEuvres de P. Corneille.' Paris, Ha- 
chette, 1862. Read, also, in Vol. Ill,, pp. 
3-76, the Notice on the Cid. 

-♦•196 •*- 



BIBLIOGRAPHICAL NOTE 

lo. Ch6ruel (A.), Memoires sur la vie 
puhlique et privee de Fouquet. Paris, Char- 
pentier, 1862. Vol. L, chapter 23. 

The student should not fail to consult 
Sainte-Beuve's Portraits Litteraires^ the Nou- 
veaux Lundis^ and Port-Royal, 

Third : Direct sources. 

1. Corneille (Pierre), (Euvres^ edited 
by Ch. Marty-Laveaux, in the series of 
' Grands £crivains de la France.' Paris, 
Hachette, 1862, in twelve volumes, with a 
supplementary ' album ' of portraits, stage- 
settings, facsimiles, etc. 

2. Gast6 (Armand), La ^erelle du 
Cidy pieces et pamphlets puhlies d'apres les 
originaux^ avec une introduction, Paris, 
Welter, 1898. 

3. Pellisson et d*01ivet, Histoire de 
V Academie fran^aise, Paris, Didier et 
0% 1858, 2 vols. Pellisson gives fifteen 
pages to the ^ quarrel of the Cid.' D'Oli- 

-H97^ 



BIBLIOGRAPHICAL NOTE 

vet reprints the Vie de M. Corneille I'aine^ 
by Fontenelle. In the notes Livet has in- 
dicated the variations between this text of 
the ' life ' and that which was printed in 
the third volume of Fontenelle's ' works,' 
edition of 1742. 



198- 



ElectrotyPed atid printed by H. O. Houghton &* Co, 
Cambridge i Mass., U.S. A, 



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